BEA rethinks the browser for mobile workers

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

BEA Systems Inc. showed off a prototype technology Wednesday that aims to extend the familiar Web browser and make it a more useful tool for people working on a laptop or handheld computer with only occasional Internet connectivity.

The goal is to create a "universal client platform" that will allow mobile workers to get as much use from their applications when they are travelling as they would when they have a permanent connection to the Internet, said Adam Bosworth, BEA's chief architect, in a speech at BEA's eWorld conference.

Dubbed Alchemy, the technology extends the idea of a Web browser by adding an additional memory cache for fetching and storing information that a user might want to view offline. It also includes a server component that handles synchronization requests from clients and can tap into other sources of data to complete transactions.

BEA has been working with several industry partners to develop Alchemy, including Nokia Corp. and Intel Corp., according to Bosworth. It will draw from existing standards as much as possible, including XML-based technologies such as XQuery, and when Alchemy is complete it will be made available on an open-source basis, he said.

BEA isn't looking to supplant Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous Internet Explorer Web browser. Instead, the technology would likely come in the form of a plug-in for existing browsers, said Erik Frieberg, a senior director of product marketing with BEA.

Bosworth didn't offer a time frame for when Alchemy might find its way into product form, but suggested that work remains to be done. "It's not a product, it's a concept. We've basically proved to ourselves that this is a doable task," he said. He was joined on stage by his young son, an up and coming coder, who helped demonstrate the offline capabilities.

Besides making workers on the road more productive, Alchemy could help businesses cut costs by allowing them to develop an application once that could be delivered to all types of clients, Bosworth said. The server component of Alchemy includes templates that would tailor the application for the type of device being used.

Several vendors already offer client and server software for deploying applications to mobile devices. Sybase Inc.'s iAnywhere division is viewed by many analysts as the market leader, and also promises to let companies develop an application once and deploy it to multiple devices.

While Alchemy may overlap with some products already available, its breakthrough may be that it proposes a standard for the caching architecture that could be shared by other vendors. Most, if not all, existing products use proprietary cache technologies, said Shawn Willet, principal analyst with Current Analysis Inc.

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