Mobile software extends business apps to handhelds

Vaultus Inc. recently revealed software that enterprises can use to transplant parts of corporate applications to handheld computers.

Dubbed Vaultus Mobile Platform (VMP), the Java software is designed to build and run client applications on handhelds using various operating systems, including PalmOS or Microsoft PocketPC. A server application handles data synchronization and connections to Java application servers or other applications.

A key part of Vaultus’ offering is its in-house consulting group, which works with enterprise customers to create or move applications to the smaller devices, using the Vaultus Mobile Platform as the underlying framework, said Jeff Kovel, the company’s senior vice-president for software solutions.

Vaultus, a New York company founded in March 2000 as MobileLogic, is finishing work with two unnamed beta customers to deploy handheld applications on VMP. For one of them, Vaultus developers are creating a client application for the SalesLogix customer relationship management application, from Interact Commerce. The client will run on handhelds that will link wirelessly to the corporate net.

VMP is based on software that Vaultus acquired in October 2000, from Eyeshake, a Boston software developer creating Java-based client and server software that would let applications run on any Java-enabled handheld, without requiring a constant network connection.

The client software includes a local Java database, data synchronization code, and support for an encrypted VPN tunnel to the corporate net. Also included is software for a range of application management features, such as automatic or by-request downloading of the latest versions of the application.

The VMP server, running on Windows 2000 or various Unix servers, includes application server features so it can host Java applications itself, but also an interface to let VMP work with Java 2 Enterprise Edition application servers, such as BEA Systems’ WebLogic, or IBM’s WebSphere.

Currently, VMP is based on a draft version of what’s called the “PDA Profile,” which can be thought of as a tailored version of the Java 2 Micro Edition specification. J2ME creates the Java APIs, libraries and virtual machine on a range of small devices. The PDA Profile is in the final stages of approval as part of J2ME, according to Kovel.

“We think Java will be the wireless application development environment of choice,” Kovel said. That’s because enterprise users want to be able to use applications such as customer relationship management, sales force automation, and so on even when they don’t have a network link, he said. With a client application tailored for the handheld, users can work offline, then synchronize once or more per day via wired or wireless connections to the corporate servers.

Vaultus Mobile Platform will be available in the next few weeks, and pricing is still being finalized. It will include a starter price for the server, bundled with a specific number of client seats. Additional client licences will cost less as the number increases. Enterprise licences will be available for large-scale deployments. Consulting services are priced separately, and an annual service fee covers support, maintenance and software upgrades.