China wholesaler preps mobile OS with a twist: apps run in cloud, not on gadget

Putting resource-intensive processes in cloud makes stupid phones look smart


In case you needed more evidence that cloud technology is rearranging all the puzzle pieces that make up the IT industry: A Chinese company best known for wholesaling low-cost phones and gadgets is developing an operating system that will run even on underpowered gear by stashing many of its more powerful features in the cloud.

According to an anonymously sourced Wall Street Journal story yesterday, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Is working on a mobile OS designed to reduce the power and cost required in a smartphone by running applications and some other services on easily accessible servers in the cloud.

Without the emphasis on putting much of the functionality in the cloud, few would pay attention to an unconfirmed report of an unreleased mobile OS from a company not known for any kind of commercial software, let alone mobile OSes.

Android, iOS and all the other major mobile operating systems with which Alibaba's will compete install much of the logic as client software in the phones themselves.

That improves performance by keeping the phone from having to send news to the server that the user just pushed a "#" and waiting for the server to reply. It also requires the phone have far more power built in than if it were designed simply to make calls, send texts and display images of the user interface for apps running on backend servers.

It's not actually a new idea. Most virtualization systems designed to connect smartphones as secure nodes in a business network do the same thing. So do dumb terminals in shared-application, shared-server environments in call centers, banks and other group-computing environments.

As user have become more accustomed to phones entertaining them with rich graphics and powerful connections to the Internet and corporate apps, demand for more power has risen even faster than the skyrocketing amount of power in the phones themselves.

Taking some of the load off the phone and putting it back on the server makes a lot of sense if you're looking at it from the point of view of an application or network architect. It makes a lot of sense if you're a corporate security pro looking at highly losable, questionably secure smartphones as device employees can use to access your most sensitive data.

That's why VMware is rushing to expand the capabilities and devices on which its VMware View desktop virtualization system can run as it tries to catch up to the core competence of virtualization-rival Citrix.

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