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Software aims for interoperability of CE devices

Posted: 02 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:consumer electronics? interoperability? Jini? HaVi? Dartdevices?

Armed with a newly developed interconnection software technology, startup Dartdevices Corp. is working on one of the most stubborn challenges dogging the CE industry: the lack of interoperability among different systems.

A host of today's CE devices employ various CPUs and OS, all running proprietary applications written to specific application programming interfaces. But unless CE manufacturers agree in advance to build and deploy compatible drivers and applications for their separate devices, they are not interoperable when they hit the market. A Nokia handset, for example, cannot talk to a Motorola set-top or a Nintendo portable game machine.

Dartdevices plans to mothball this fundamentally closed model with a small piece of software called DartPlayer. The player's basic technology is similar to the "Obje" software architecture invented by the Palo Alto Research Center, a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox Corp., according to Dan Illowsky, co-founder and chief technology officer at Dartdevices.

Smooth interoperation
Once the 250Kbyte DartPlayer software package is installed, an application originally developed for a specific device or platform "can spread itself as needed over multiple OS and wireless protocols," said CTO Illowsky. Adding a DartPlayer to each device exposes hardware, software and content to all other devices embedded with DartPlayer, he said. This allows all devices with DartPlayer to interoperate smoothly, since each device has direct access to the combined resources of all others.

But of course there's a hitch. To achieve this harmonious era of cooperation, the startup would still need to negotiate with each device manufacturer to incorporate a DartPlayer in its products.

Describing DartPlayer as a bridge uniting PCs, MACs and mobile platforms like Symbian, Dartdevices co-founder and CEO Rich Mirabella remains optimistic. He said he is confident that carriers and service operators will embrace the DartPlayer model over time. "Suppose a carrier like Verizon wants to introduce new applications or new services," said Mirabella. Although It could demand that handset manufacturers design products in a certain manner, it cannot deploy them in a host of home devices unless it has made prior agreements with CE manufacturers, he said.

Moreover, even when arrangements are made ahead of time, carriers still must guide users to find, download and install the drivers and programs that will enable their existing devices to run their new services.

But with DartPlayer, carriers could introduce featuressuch as a mobile phone controlling other devices remotelyand spread them across different consumer devices. "This will dramatically shorten the time-to-market for launching new applications and services," said Mirabella.

Slide show demo
One of the technology demos the startup has prepared is a slide show. This show, written as a Dart application, needs to reside only on one mobile phone. As long as a DartPlayer is installed in a handset, all the pictures stored in the camera phone and presented in the Dart slide show application can run on any DartPlayer-equipped PC, PDA, MAC or printer without requiring each device to install the slide show application.

Another Dart application is a multidevice game such as Pong or Sudoku, said Illowsky. Once a user has installed a new Dart-enabled game in a handset, a trial version of the game spreads to his friends' handheld devices if they are also equipped with Dart devices. Again, the game only needs to be on one device to trigger device-to-device software distribution. "It's a new distribution model for game developers," said Illowsky, "like word of mouth."

On a technical level, DartPlayer is essentially a virtual machine, a lot like what the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) is to Java. In fact, the basic premise Dartdevices offers reminds many industry observers of Sun Microsystems' Java-based Jini initiative, or the HaVi initiatives once promoted by leading CE vendors, both of which have been abandoned.

But the overlap between Java and Dart is "only about 15 to 16 percent," said Illowsky.

Binary-portable
While JVM "hides the differences of each device," enabling it to look exactly the same to Java applications, DartPlayer exposes such differences to Dart applications, explained Illowsky. Dart is "an instruction set-based technology" that allows Dart applicationswritten in C++to run across different devices without recompiling, he said. Dart applications are binary-portable.

In essence, the new Dart software architecture, which requires no master, runs counter to the conventional approaches taken by most CE companies today for achieving interoperability among different devices. Mirabella observed that many CE companies have followed a path similar to that taken by enterprise PC businesses, assuming the presence of a full-time system administratorsomewhere in the networkmanaging a number of PCs running identical applications.

That approach, however, is not realistic in the CE world. Under the Dart architecture, through the use of procedural technology, a small Dart program goes back and forth among devices, just like PostScript documents work among different devices, in order to achieve interoperability, Illowsky said.

Security mechanisms
The 14-member startup also claims to offer a number of security mechanisms. Virus protection is offered through sandboxing. Device conversations are always encrypted at both ends, according to the company. Dart also provides what it calls a "social security model," which follows basic human relationships. Dart devices are set up to talk to other Dart devices in a manner similar to the way people choose the people they trust to keep their secrets.

The company will license DartPlayer, an engine and core Dart applications to device manufacturers. The software development kit for third-party developers is ready now, the company said. The company will launch Dart applications for phones, PCs and the Web, in addition to phone-to-phone Dart applications, in the second half of 2007.

The company expects millions of Dart devices by 2009, with the company's software technology to be used to remotely control CE devices. By 2010, it hopes carriers and major cable operators will start providing Internet server-based personal Dart devices to their customers.

- Junko Yoshida
eeProductCenter




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