Vendors rally around mobile NC specification

Vendors rally around mobile NC specificationBOSTON - Nearly a dozen vendors have agreed on a set of standards for mobile network computers, a definition that will encompass devices ranging from smart cell phones to hand-held computers.

Agreeing to the specifications that will determine how mobile NCs' screens will look, how much power they will consume, and how they'll be linked to networks and peripherals are 14 companies, including Apple, Sun, Fujitsu, IBM and Netscape.

The Mobile Network Computer Reference Specification (MNCRS) is an extension of the Network Computer Reference Profile (NCRP), and will continue to evolve based on input from the companies sponsoring it, according to the companies.

The new specification is, like the NCRP, characterised by microprocessor and OS independence, and is Java-centric, says Phil Hester, vice-president of development at IBM's NC division. However, it aims to address the needs of mobile users by extending the specification to address disconnected operations, data replication and consistency, lower network bandwidth, security and authentication, and power management, Hester said.

Three working groups have been formed to address these issues and to define relevant APIs and reference implementations. Within 60 to 90 days, additional details will be announced, and as specific elements of the standard are developed, they will be turned over to the Open Group standards organisation, Hester added.

Oracle subsidiary NCI has developed a persistent storage technology that will be used in mobile NCs, said spokeswoman Denise Lahey. NCI will provide details at a later date.

The initial NC specification implies that the device will be connected to a network. The mobile extension permitting devices to operate in disconnected mode is a necessary evolution, according to Eileen O'Brien, director of the network computing service at IDC.

More choices, lower costs

"The NC will be a more robust product", as a result, O'Brien said. The specification's strength versus the competitive Windows CE specification from Microsoft is that the NC reference profile doesn't require a particular chip or operating system, whereas the CE devices will be geared towards a Microsoft Windows environment.

"The real winners here are the users, because this gives them another choice for mobile and wireless computing," O'Brien said. "More competition means more choices, which means lower costs. You can say this is a political move [against Microsoft] but I do think this is a solid product announcement based on the vendors behind this - it is not smoke and mirrors," O'Brien added.

The mobile NC specifications can be found