OSGI yi yi

There you are in the electronics superstore, eyeing 27 different audio players. “It’s MP3 compliant!” announces one big yellow sticker. “It’s WMA ready!” declares another. WMA or MP3 are both digital music file types. The former is a Microsoft technology and the later a more widely used format.

So what happens when the music player makers decide in, say, three or five years that MP3 and WMA are obsolete and that they will be replaced by something newer? Walk out to the curb – like you did with your 8-track player and Betamax 15 years ago – and dump the device on the sidewalk. Then head for the electronics superstore where you will eye 27 different audio players and read their big yellow labels – again. This time you look at them with fresh eyes. One says: “Ha, ha, you’re back. We gotcha!” Another says “Hooray for obsolescence!”.

What if I told you that might change? What if I told you that you can upgrade any technology you buy from this day forward? It could happen if the OSGi Alliance has their way.

OSGi stands for Open Services Gateway Initiative. It’s a mouthful and even though I’ve spelled out the acronym for you, my guess is you’re still scratching your head. Yeah, that’s what I did.

After talking to three people from the OSGi Alliance, I figured it out. Here’s what it does.

It’s a technology that allows for two things. First, it slows obsolescence in consumer electronics. It’s the plumbing that allows updates to the embedded programming that runs a device. You probably know that inside every electronics device, there are chips that make it work and, in those chips, there are programs. In most cases, the program can’t be updated, but in an OSGi-compliant device, it can be. That update can come from the Internet and find its way onto a device and completely upgrade it to fix problems or extend the device’s life by updating it. The other thing OSGi does is add new functions, allowing the device to do new things.

This doesn’t mean an update via the OSGi framework (as it is called) will turn your MP3 player into a camcorder. If the hardware can’t handle a task because of its physical limitations, OSGi can’t help.

“The benefit the consumer will see is that devices are less likely to become obsolete,” said Dan Bandera, IBM’s program director of emerging device standards and strategy. “There’s also the ability,” explained Bandera, who is also an OSGi Alliance board member, “to add new features after you bring it home from Best Buy or Sears.”

Let’s say your phone is simple. Maybe it has a screen that shows the time and date and can ring and is able to dial out, but that’s all. One day, caller ID gets invented. So the phone gets a software upgrade using OSGi and suddenly it can display a caller ID on its screen. That’s the power of OSGi.

Beyond new features, OSGi can also act as an intermediary between devices. It can help one device talk to another. In the future, your alarm clock might use OSGi technology to alert the toaster that you’re up and about.

To get new data, a device will need some connection in and out, maybe through a home network or Bluetooth, but once it gets it, updates can find their way to the device from the Internet.

There are a lot of companies participating in the OSGi Alliance. It includes Motorola, Philips, IBM, Toshiba, Samsung, Siemens, and Nokia. The list goes on. So it appears as if OSGi will become a certainty.

Philips is one of the first companies to produce an OSGi-compliant device called the iPronto, an oversized remote control for your TV that can also control the heating, display video from the security camera at the door and plenty of other home control functions. Of course, with OSGi, it’ll be able to do all kinds of other things in future.

The biggest challenge for the OSGi Alliance is to get the word out to people like you, but they struggle with clarity.

When I asked a rather befuddled PHd-powered OSGi spokesperson what OSGi was, he responded: “It’s middle-ware based on Java, so we extend the Java environment and that allows us life cycle management and definition of common interfaces.”

Imagine that on a big yellow sticker.