IBM getting a jump on the embedded device market

Looking to be one of the first out of the starting gates in the emerging embedded Java race, IBM Corp. announced recently the beta version of VisualAge for Embedded Systems, Java Edition.

According to IBM, this offering enhances the VisualAge family of products, which provides developers with an end-to-end solution for creating applications that run on small devices like cellular phones and pagers, through workstations and departmental servers, to mainframe-based enterprise data. This is just one of the tools IBM is expected to roll-out, allowing application developers to target embedded systems and small form-factor devices.

VisualAge for Embedded Systems, Java Edition, is an add-on developers’ workbench for Java tools, which allows developers to take advantage of Java technology and components to bring embedded systems application to market faster, a task which, according to the company, was slow and expensive because developers had to build each application one at a time, designing them for use on a specific device.

According to Joe Damassa, vice-president, application development marketing in the software solutions division at IBM, the new VisualAge includes IBM’s embedded Java (EJava) virtual machine runtime, class libraries for target platforms, testing and debugging tools; tools for building Java runtimes as small as 27KB; and a set of reusable components for connections to back-end applications.

“We have to start to think about how to connect these devices (pagers and cell phones, for example) in a networked world and do e-business applications,” he said. “We have to think about how we can integrate these applications with traditional development environments.

“So you start brainstorming about the next generation of applications when you can start treating these embedded devices not as stand-alone devices but as connected,” Damassa said. “And you start to realize you need a different class of tools, ones that can help manage a development process that spans embedded devices as well as back-end systems.”

And that’s where VisualAge for Embedded Systems, Java Edition, comes in.

According to IBM, International Data Corp. (IDC) market research figures project that by 2003 there will be more than five million embedded devices connecting to the Internet. But although embedded devices are a growing market, industry analysts agree they have yet to make their way into the enterprise.

According to Carl Zetie, analyst with Giga Information Group Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., it’s only a matter of time and enterprise developers should be starting to keep an eye on this market.

“What we’re going to see in the next wave is truly connected applications, where you’ll be working on a palm pilot or a smart pager, for example, and we’ll see that connected…to the enterprise systems,” he said. “I see that happening early next year, although the very brave might experiment with it this year.”

According to Zetie, early projects in this space are going to demand skills that are not necessarily available today.

“Fairly intense programming skills, good technical knowledge (will be needed) and if companies have people who have worked previously in the real-time or embedded space, those are the people who should be working on the pilot projects in this space,” Zetie said.

Dave Kelly, vice-president, application strategies at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass., concurs with Zetie. He said that, although the embedded device market may not affect all enterprise developers today, it will affect a small segment who need to extend the reach of their applications.

“Hurwitz Group believes that the embedded systems market will be a growing market and that enterprise developers will have to begin to incorporate embedded systems in their list of target environments,” he said. “There will be a growth curve — there’s more and more devices getting access to the Internet in non-traditional computers. Enterprise developers are going to want to be able to create applications or functionality that can be deployed to these devices. And that’s where the VisualAge for Embedded Systems comes in.”

VisualAge for Embedded Systems will initially support Intel x86, MIPS, PowerPC and ARM7100 processors.

A version of VisualAge for Embedded Systems, beta code, is now available for download from This download contains a beta of the runtime virtual machine and class libraries for a selected set of platforms. The product is expected to be available in Q4 this year. Pricing is not yet available.