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Interview: Evan Sohn, Zaurus Developer

Evan Sohn is President of Logix, Inc., a PDA software development firm that writes applications for sales force automation and field applications. Logix developed the Accutrade stock quotation application for the Zaurus and various handheld applications for Abbott Labs, SmithKline Beecham, and Becton Dickinson.

Let?s start with you. What is your software development background?
I?m the president of Logix, Inc. Logix has been in the mobile computing industry for over seven years now. We got into this with the intention of marketing medical applications on handheld computers. We started to program on the Sharp Wizard 7000.

How did you start developing for the Sharp Zaurus?
Since 1989, we have been developing for handheld computers. In a little over seven years, we have worked on eight devices. We have migrated from platform to platform, such as the HP-100LX and 200LX, OmniGo, and Apple Newton.

What kind of applications does Logix write for the Zaurus?

We are automating pharmaceutical and consumer goods sales forces. Rather than doing their call reporting and product sampling, they are collecting that data and communicating it on a PDA. We are also developing wireless applications.

Are you primarily developing for vertical or horizontal markets?
Our biggest focus is on vertical markets. From our perspective, that is the initial audience for this technology. Enough vertical markets spawn a market for horizontal applications. This is really the trend in the entire industry.

Do you provide software to both third parties and companies for internal use?
We really have a good separation between the two. We have our own applications, specifically in sales automation. We tailor that, customize it, modify it, and integrate it into other people?s back end systems for a number of third parties. We have also developed applications for specific markets for other companies.

How is developing Sharp Zaurus applications different from developing for PCs?
The main difference is the platform itself. The Sharp OS has been optimized for mobile computing with very good data storage, power management, communications, etc. This comes with the added burden of it not being as common as other operating systems, such as Windows. Where it is more difficult to develop applications, the philosophy is that you select the tool most appropriate to the job, not necessarily the one that is easiest to develop for. That helps insure the success of the project.

What do you find most challenging about Zaurus development?
I would have to say since it?s a hardware-based application system, in order to really debug applications, there is no real-time software debugger. In order to find a problem you have to, of course, compile the application, then download it into the memory of the Zaurus and execute it to find the bugs. There is really no equivalent of a step compiler.
What we have developed is a suite of libraries of various functions that really facilitate our application development. We have a number of programmers that use those tools to create other applications.

Do you find the object orientation of Zaurus? Synergy OS carries over to all of your applications?
Sure. When we hire programmers, we look for people with experience in object-oriented programming. From an object-oriented programming point of view, the Zaurus OS is just great.

You mentioned libraries. Do you apply any methodology or CASE tools?

We use the Source Safe system for version control and we also use it to control the libraries. That?s very important. For example, without controls, we?d make a change to the libraries to add a function and it could spread to other apps that use that function.

How do you like Sharp?s support for your development efforts?

Sharp has been very supportive throughout the years. We could not have come this far without their support. Given the speed with which that technology is being created, it is a monumental effort on everybody?s part to be up-to-date with technical and developer support. Sharp has bent over backwards to ensure that we are provided with all the necessary information to support the applications we develop.

How long does a typical application development cycle take?
I would have to say it depends on the application itself and how similar it is to our existing applications. Something for sales automation takes a much shorter time than something developed from scratch. However, given our seven years in developing applications, most applications are really quite similar; you are gathering information in a database or communicating that information to somebody and maybe doing some kind of algorithmic processing along the way to calculate something. Now to answer the question, the typical application usually is a three or four month project, depending on the complexity.

Why don?t we see the kind of third party and public domain support for the Zaurus that we see for Newton?

Because Sharp has chosen to take a different path than Apple. I think Sharp is eager to preserve the quality of the applications that are developed on their platform. Thus, one might call it a closed architecture, and others might call it selective instead.

What would you say to a would-be Zaurus developer?
A very good question. The most important thing I would tell anybody is that it takes a commitment to long-term development. Technologies change and new platforms emerge onto the market place. We have seen a lot of people come and go who have tried to develop a single application. You really have to be committed to it.
Sharp is so customer focused. Let?s say they put in TCP/IP support in the next Zaurus. Sharp could come out with a unit that would make our current application obsolete. Sharp is interested in giving their target customer what they need, so developers have to be ready to spend the extra time to rework an application.

-Daniel W. Rasmus

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