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What Does it All Mean?

What Does it All Mean?

Wireless - what a stupid word. When all's said and done, what does it really mean? Is it just another word the computing industry has hijacked for its own ill-gotten gains? After some searching around I came up with a number of definitions for the infamous word:

1. To communicate (a message) or communicate with (someone) by radio telephone or telegraph
2. Without, or operating, transmitted, or the like without, wires; a wireless message

I guess that sort of fits into where the word is being deployed. That makes me feel a lot better. But what does it really mean? What does it mean to us in the Java community? It means that the devices that are considered "wireless" don't have any wires in them. With respect to this, I believe the technical definition could be "a device that is completely independent of wires for power and networking purposes."

Okay, but let's get back to Java for a moment. What does it mean for us in the Java community? To be brutally frank, it means absolutely nothing. Java is a platform-independent language and the developing community doesn't care or worry about such low-level decisions as deployment. That's the whole point of Java: write once, run anywhere. Or have I missed something? Oh, if only it were that simple. Sadly, it's nowhere near that, and as the proliferation of devices increases, this WORA statement will be getting less and less valid. The reality of the day is that it does matter. You simply can't download your applet into your Palm Pilot and start toddling out of the office knowing that you have everything you need.

The role of the Java developer has changed. No one can claim that he or she is a Java developer. There's no such job anymore. The Java part of the equation is easy; it's the target audience that's the hard part. A developer working for deployment on an EJB server is going to have different hurdles and problems to solve than a developer heading for the browser community. Likewise, the developer coding servlets/JSP isn't going to be hitting the same problems as a developer for embedded devices. Sure, at the core level they all have core Java, but that's no longer the problem. Don't be fooled. The devices, which are providing Java Virtual Machines, have to squeeze a lot of processing out of a small footprint.

The guidelines for Java Micro Edition (http://java.sun.com/j2me/) state that devices are classified in one of two areas: those that have less than 512K usable memory and those that have more. Not a lot of memory to play with at the end of the day, is it? This isn't user memory, of course; this is just the memory that the JVM has to be shoehorned into. So, as you can imagine, a lot of functionality that we've been used to in the main JDK has to be sacrificed. But this is good. This will allow Java developers to become more focused and raise their skill levels. Instead of relying on core libraries to do a lot of work for us, we're going to have to worry about solving them ourselves. For many developers this is going to be impossible. They simply won't be able to think around the problems that are going to be presented. For others this is going to present a challenge and drive excitement.

It's not quite as bad as it was in the early days of the home computer  when the likes of Matthew Smith (a coding god in my eyes) were trying to get as much out of the 48K Spectrum for the classic "Jet Set Willy" or "Manic Miner" games. Incidentally, drop in on www.spectrum.lovely.net/ for a trip down memory lane. Anyone who knows the physical constraints of the computer will appreciate the quality of these games. Whatever it is you're developing - games for a Nokia phone or an address application for your Palm Pilot - you're going to have to be aware of the constraints that such an environment is going to place on you. You're going to have to think around these problems, and chances are, as you do, even more problems will pop up. But hey, that's development! Java isn't the answer; it's merely the tool to help you provide the solution.

More Stories By Alan Williamson

Alan Williamson is widely recognized as an early expert on Cloud Computing, he is Co-Founder of aw2.0 Ltd, a software company specializing in deploying software solutions within Cloud networks. Alan is a Sun Java Champion and creator of OpenBlueDragon (an open source Java CFML runtime engine). With many books, articles and speaking engagements under his belt, Alan likes to talk passionately about what can be done TODAY and not get caught up in the marketing hype of TOMORROW. Follow his blog, http://alan.blog-city.com/ or e-mail him at cloud(at)alanwilliamson.org.

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Most Recent Comments
Gary Dobbins 01/18/01 08:59:00 AM EST

Alan,

Am so glad someone has taken the time to pound on the mis/over-use of the term Wireless these days.

We're amidst a "wireless" hype cycle here, and to contrast services delivered truly without wires (e.g. WAP over cellular), versus those where we just extend our corporate wired LAN to the air (with 802.11b devices), I've re-introduced the term "cordless" (like the phone at home) for the short-range connections as 802.11b provides.

Maybe I'm just as guilty now of brining yet another term into overload, but using it has helped us here quickly distinguish between the above 2 service types (both of which we expect to use and don't need to confuse with one another).

It's time we stopped calling everything that uses radio "wireless" and bring into usage terms that are more descriptive.

Thanks for the article.

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