Stage Set for Wireless, PDA Web Services Specs

After a feverish summer agenda, the SyncML group has pulled together a number of key specs and test results for setting standards for the "mobile extended enterprise." The work on mobile services interoperability and management wraps up just as SyncML joins the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), the newly created federation of mobile standards groups. See why the momentum will stay high for setting a new wave of standards for Java- and .NET-driven mobile/wireless web services.

Tags: Spec, SyncML, Mobile, Heintzman, Device Management, Interoperability, IDN,

After a feverish summer agenda, the SyncML Initiative has pulled together a number of key specs and test results for setting standards for the "mobile extended enterprise."

The work on mobile services interoperability and management wraps up just as SyncML joins the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), the newly created federation of mobile standards groups.

"The interoperable tests for device management we had last month were very successful," Doug Heintzman, chairman of the SyncML Initiative told IDN. "We are just one step away from declaring interoperable products under the Device Management spec." That will likely be done next month, during SyncML's November meeting in Europe, he added.

"The feedback is that the device management interoperability spec is very mature, well thought out and is good shape," he told IDN. "The work that remains is to simply drive out any ambiguities in the spec to make it easier and more straight-forward for vendors to build interoperable products. " Most interoperability problems, Heintzman said, arise from ambiguous interpretations of the spec, "So a lot of the engineering is specifically focused at figuring out where ambiguities might be and how to eliminate them," he added.

The timing of these SyncML successes is not a coincidence, Heintzman conceded.

"With the merge into OMA coming very shortly, we didn't want to hand over anything that was half-baked," he told IDN. "We were very conscientious about handing over a mature and robust spec as much as possible to the full committee as we join the OMA. It was important to the continued momentum we are building for mobile standards -- for carriers and for the 'extended enterprise,'" Heintzman added, who is a full-time employee with IBM.

Just in the last few months, Oracle Corp. has become much more hands-on with SyncML's work. See SyncML Q&A. And, when SyncML joins the OMA, the group will be in direct collaboration with execs from Microsoft's mobile business and technology units.

Spec'ing the SyncML Specs
SyncML's DataSync, which has been out since December 2000, is now "very robust," Heintzman said, and a new wave of more robust testing tools has come available. More than 100 devices now comply with the DS spec (on both the client and the server side). These products come from Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Oracle, Matsushita, Motorola, Nokia, Openwave, Starfish Software, and Symbian, among others.

As for SyncML's Device Management 1.0 spec, the success from those interoperability tests (held last month is Las Vegas) "gave the DM committee the confidence to sit down for another 2 1/2 weeks beyond the SyncFest to do the final thing clean up and refer the DM spec and interoperability test suite to the board for final review." That review will be completed as early as next week, Heintzman added.

Combined, these two specs form a "framework for mobile web services," Heintzman told IDN. "This SyncML framework technology will be as fundamental as IP, and HTTP are to conventional wired Internet communications today," he said. "Having these core specs defined for how mobile devices will interact and interoperate with one another will unlock a tremendous amount of potential."

Underscoring this concept of a mobile framework, Heintzman told IDN that some of the first add-ons to the SyncML work will be to embrace current web services standards, notably support for SOAP clients. "We fully anticipate to embrace WS and SOAP, and make our core specs to be enhanced with these specs. It doesn't make sense for us to create our own SOAP transports, for example.

Commercial Firms Ready for Support
Starfish Software, a founder of SyncML, just had its latest versions of its TrueSync data synchronization products SyncML DataSync 1.1 certified. Starfish focuses its business on providing data synchronization capabilities to software providers, including IBM's Websphere and PeopleSoft. "The big guys are making it a core part of their product, and there's reason to assume that data synchronization will be an even bigger differentiator when it comes to supporting mobile workers and wireless clients," Diane Law, Starfish's director of marketing told IDN.

Law puts it this way: "Sync ML's Device Management specification solves much the same problem for handhelds and PDAs as we had for laptops year ago. It helps answer the questions: 'What's on these devices? How to I get access to that data, application or whatever?," she said, adding that once the SyncML device management spec gets broad support it will spur IT's interest in mobile use. "By having over-the-air device management, and access to the device we can update, synchronize, and even for security purposes lock-up and retrieve the data," Law said.

Starfish also has APIs to support synchronization from Microsoft Exchange and Lotus' Domino. The company also has the capability to support Microsoft CE clients from a Java or Windows back-end server, she added. Starfish is working with OEMs, and Law said she expects further added announcements later this year.

Despite the SyncML's momentum, Heintzman doesn't expect a complete "rubber stamp" of their work to date. "We are looking forward to showing up in our new home and having some very talented engineers looking at us from the outside, review our work and be honest and blunt in their criticism -- and even provoke us to think about new ideas moving forward," Heintzman said. He remains confident the SyncML group will gain more -- not less -- momentum once it folds into the OMA (with a broad array of wireless and mobile agendas).

"Our core foundation is very much looking complete, and that's what important. It is substantial enough to motivate interest and contributions, and probably some healthy discussions," Heintzman said.