The company, touted "the first Indian company to develop a mobile browser" launched its browser aimed at mobile phones with much fanfare earlier this year, and since its web page touts the "highly portable" nature of its applications we decided to INQuire the firm about its plans with regards to PalmOS and Linux.
This scribbler was hoping to test the company's jB5 browser on his PalmOS smartphone, but despite the company's web page page reading "Our applications are based on open standards, are highly portable, interoperable and platform agnostic (Windows Mobile OS, PalmOS, Symbian, J2ME, BREW and other native OS platforms)", it turned out things are not so OS-agnostic after all. The firm's general manager of handset solutions, Anil Krishnan, explained the company's decision to choose Symbian as the reference platform. He also told the INQ - much to my surprise - that it decided to avoid both Windows Mobile and Palm OS at the moment because of how these two companies will position its own web browser as the default on each operating system. Microsoft bundles "pocket IE" and PalmSource is now owned by Access which also develops the Netfront browser.
Mr. Krishnan said: "We have chosen the Series 60 platform of Symbian as a reference platform for implementing a full fledged version of our jB5" and explained that "Windows Mobile and PalmOS are platforms that we are consciously skirting at the moment primarily because we feel that Microsoft and PalmSource (Access) will basically position their in-house Pocket IE and Access's Netfront browser as default on these platforms". He also hinted about plans to support QT/Linux platforms and even "WinCE" by middle next year, and concluded that "Any other platforms will be customer specific implementation".
Access: "There is room for third party solutions"
INQuired about these claims, Manuel Morales at Access said he understood the company's point of view, yet he gave his opinion on the issue of browser competition from the OS providers: "Yes, there is overlap with Access' products, but there might be room for their solutions anyway", and said "Access, for example, offers a version of the NetFront browser for Pocket PC, but it would be highly unlikely that that product would ever achieve more than a minor market share on that platform. Still, we've won a couple of awards with the product from magazines like Pocket PC magazine", concluding that "ALP is designed to be flexible, so in the OEM market, if an operator specifies components from certain vendors, that should not be a problem".
This scribbler respectfully disagrees with this Bangalore software house, and its decision to "skirt" Palm OS, and thinks that a Java Mobile Edition version would be a great way to reach all platforms at once, if the current offering from Opera is any indication. One of the main selling points of PalmSource's upcoming ALP linux platform is the built-in support of Linux, Gnome (GTK+ 2), and Java APIs, plus its ability to run thousands of current PalmOS applications under its PalmOS virtual machine. Competition always benefits the end user and even a Java based incarnation would be a good alternative to give the native Netfront/PalmSource web browser some competition.
In short: This is the first time I hear about an ISV saying -or politely implying- that Microsoft's and PalmSource's own browsers make each company's platforms less attractive for the development of third party, competing web browsers. It certainly doesn't seem to be stopping Opera from trying to reach into every market segment, for instance.
Should we shop for mobile browsers?
In related news, Nokia recently released the source code of its own Open Source web browser based on Apple's Safari Web Kit, which runs on the Symbian OS, possibly leaving this Bangalore company with no place to run. Which got me thinking: should we really shop for mobile browsers, or will open source make all these companies and products irrelevant? µ