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Implementation That Tells All Points Wireless: 'Let's All Get Along'

Severely limited in their local storage capacity, and often running operating systems that don't mesh neatly with client/server apps, mobile wireless devices are a blessing for traveling workers but a nuisance for developers.




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t first glance, bringing peer-to-peer capabilities to mobile wireless devices may appear to impose a needless layer of complexity on the already complex task of providing remote access.

This concept extends to any wireless device that can communicate with the corporate network. When plugged into any of a growing number of peer-to-peer platforms, wireless devices are becoming mini-servers, each capable of running tiny, yet powerful, data-dispensing applications. In this architecture, data flows from person to person across the edge of the network as well as back to the server.

What a mobile P2P user can access depends, of course, on permissions he has been granted—an issue which we'll discuss later—but it's likely that the user will have access to at least some co-workers' devices as well as their own desktop PC. Through this mechanism, the borders of the company's information infrastructure have been expanded meaningfully—without rebuilding the client-server architecture, engaging in legacy integration, or even building an intra/extranet site.

For that reason, we'd suggest it's worth getting to know what issues you'll face in building peer-to-peer functionality into your wireless connectivity schemes. Here, we'll outline the scope of the wireless P2P development problems and describe some proposed solutions.

More Hassle, More Benefit
In recent times, a steadily growing list of wireless-capable devices has been hitting the scene—including the RIM Blackberry, Handspring Visor, Compaq iPaq, and HP Journada—facing developers with a growing list of interfaces and operating systems to consider. With the mobile device market split among these varied camps, IT departments will probably be asked to support virtually all of them.

Connecting these devices to information sources ranges in difficulty, from familiar processes to a protracted process of adapting code for low-powered devices with non-standard operating systems. For example, programmers who want to connect a handheld computer wirelessly can usually work with familiar tools, as these are typically Win32 devices. In other words, with handhelds like the iPaq already running a version of Windows, integration runs along familiar pathways. Even in that case, however, varied versions of Windows CE may complicate the task somewhat.

Developers working with smart phones, for their part, will encounter a few different operating systems, each with their own quirks. Perhaps the most popular browser is the Openwave Mobile Browser, created by mobile software developer Openwave Systems of Redwood City, CA, but competition does exist, and developers need to know their way around this.

Presenting web information via PDA platforms such as the Palm OS, meanwhile, requires that programmers write more elaborate translation routines, given that client-server systems will not be compatible with this PDA platform. Linux-powered mobile devices such as the Yopy PDA from G.Mate Inc. will call for their own approaches as well.

Which Microbrowser to Implant?
For just about every implementation, developers must choose the type of microbrowser they'll implement, and decide upon a method for translating ordinary HTML or other data to a supported format such as WAP.

These days, corporate information departments have had little choice but to create connections for these disparate devices, despite the hassles. Given the time-consuming nature of the task, it's easy to see why adding P2P functionality may sound like just one more unwelcome chore. And up to a point, it's true—peer-to-peer software isn't eliminating the problems mobile device developers face, and, in some cases, introduces technical issues of its own.

On the other hand, P2P also brings information sharing, collaboration, and real-time synchronization options that aren't likely to exist in a pure client-server environment. In fact, peer-to-peer technology may actually simplify the process of opening up worker access to key information, permitting users to tap PC data freely, rather than wait for IT departments to connect them one at a time to critical apps such as Outlook. Tradeoffs like these make the bigger picture seem far more balanced.

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