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MS Research Spinoff Pegs Mobile Software Tool

MS Research spin-off Zumobi unleashes first beta of mobile software.

A spin-off of Microsoft Research has unleashed the first beta release of new software intended to make it easier to develop apps running on multiple mobile OSes for handheld devices.

The software from Zumobi, until last month known as ZenZui, is designed to address some of the key shortcomings of mobile Web browsers -- namely, that they're slow and difficult for most individuals to navigate. At the same time, Zumobi is promising that its software will ultimately support multiple mobile device platforms, allowing developers to build OS-independent mobile apps.

New Mobile Contenders

Zumobi's offering could be one of many that will define a new class of mobile app software just as the wireless network landscape is showing signs of opening up. As reported this month, Verizon Wireless has said it will open up its network to devices and applications other than those sold and serviced by the carrier (see the Dec. 15, 2007, cover story).

"Whether it's [Google Inc.'s] Android, Verizon or Nokia, we want to provide a simple solution for people to access the data," says Beth Goza, Zumobi's senior marketing manager.

The beta release works on Microsoft's Windows Mobile (versions 5 and 6) with a Java version in development to support Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry platform.

Zumobi seeks to let developers and individuals customize the device interface regardless of the network provider and mobile OS. Developers build "tiles" that are effectively personalized widgets underlying multimedia content, Web sites, blogs or personal information. Zumobi's Zooming User Interface, or ZUI, lets individuals have customized "zoom spaces" that accommodate various form factors and content presentation -- which are saved in memory -- even if a wireless network isn't available.

"These tiles can be programmed to do a variety of things, whether they're serving up simple RSS feeds from your favorite Web site to something a little more sophisticated like browsing your Flickr photos," says Goza.

Caching allows the software to minimize latency issues typical of mobile Web browsers, while server-based synchronization pushes content out to devices.

Zumobi

Zumobi offers an SDK to let developers develop tiles using their preferred tools. "Whether it's Notepad or Visual Studio, they can develop in the tool and language of their choice," Goza says. The company has also created its own language, called ZZML, which specifies how the software handles server synchronization.

In the Right Direction
Zumobi serves content from its own servers. Yankee Group Research Inc. analyst Linda Barrabee, who has seen the software, says the approach is a step in the right direction, but she doesn't expect applications to become network-independent overnight.

"We're still far away from this open access, customizable scenario," Barrabee says. "But the software itself is focused on bringing to your phone easy access to Web-based applications. The platform provides something that's customizable and can be personalized."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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