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Mobile Ajax for workers on the edge

Ajax may provide the glue holding together the virtual corporation with its growing number of mobile workers toiling on the edge of the business, tethered by sometimes tenuous wireless connections, according to the Clipper Group Inc.

The number of mobile workers globally will soon be more than double the total U.S. population, according to predictions by another analyst firm, IDC Corp. IDC has predicted that in two years there will be 878 million mobile workers linked to their corporate headquarters by notebook PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the already ubiquitous cell phone.

In a recent report on the rich Internet application (RIA) strategy of Nexaweb Technologies Inc., Anne MacFarland, director of data strategies and information solutions for The Clipper Group, describes these mobile workers as being on the "active edges of business."

Asked for an example, she said, "The typical example is mobile sales and service force where increasingly these days people who are out there facing customers are asked to supply more in depth information and be able to participate more closely with the rest of the organization they're representing." MacFarland says she sees the line between sales and service blurring, so that today's workers on the active edges of business are in consultancy roles, selling the services they provide, including things like PC repair or overnight delivery.

Even with hot spots at Starbucks available for a cup of coffee, staying in contact with the mother ship isn't easy for workers on the edge.

"These folks need to be productive whether they are online, off-line or flitting between zones of connectivity in an unpredicted fashion," MacFarland writes. "They need their productivity whether they favor Java or Microsoft. They want the informational depth to make them appear brilliant. They want the data center to support the entire business process as a service to be delivered to them."

This is where the Web 2.0 technologies, especially RIA including Ajax, will find a practical application, the analyst predicts. She envisions mobile workers accessing legacy application and data via Web services inside a service-oriented architecture (SOA) or even CORBA, as long as it can be pushed out to a mobile RIA client. Unlike RIA implementations aimed a always-connected desktop PCs, applications for the sometimes-connected mobile worker have special requirements.

"Because of the perishable nature of Web access devices, this rich client must still be lightweight," MacFarland writes. "Yet, in some situations, it also must be capable of supplying full functionality off-line. The switch-over between a client's connected and disconnected state must be unnoticeable to the user ? and for this, some business logic on the client is needed."

The perishable nature of wireless connections is not something that is going to be solved anytime soon, MacFarland says. She advises architects and developers to design RIA applications for mobile workers so they have enough logic and data on the client to keep working when they lose connectivity.

MacFarland's report focuses on the products from Nexaweb, which she argues it focused more on the needs of the workers on the edge, than vendors who are aiming at the gaming and social networking side of Web 2.0.

"What I like about Nexaweb is they propose a continuum to assess who you are building the application for and what is the likelihood that they will have connectivity problems," she said.

In her report she noted: "Nexaweb addresses the wider challenge of both providing a usable, familiar interface and productively connecting with the full array of application functionality needed. It provides what is in effect the invisible glue to make enterprise processes work as needed -- wherever they are needed."

She notes that Nexaweb provides "the industry's first Internet Messaging Bus" to handle the often dicey connectivity mobile workers face, providing "message delivery at whatever bandwidth is available and also when connectivity is restored if it is cut off."

Another Nexaweb contribution to Web 2.0 for the mobile workforce is eXtensive Ajax Platform (XAP), which the vendor is championing as an Apache project. Now in incubator status, XAP is described on the Apache Website as "an XML-based declarative framework for building, deploying and maintaining rich, interactive Ajax powered Web applications." MacFarland explains "XAP supports a declarative Ajax runtime as well as declarative data binding and UI modification," which has the potential to make it easier for IT to build and support applications for the wide variety of mobile devices in use.

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