Sun Microsystems has agreed to acquire Pixo, a developer of mobile content distribution management software, it announced Thursday. Pixo's products are typically used by carriers to secure distribution and manage billing of downloadable ringtones, screensavers and Java games for mobile phones, but Sun sees the same technology being useful in the enterprise, for example to control distribution of catalog updates to mobile sales staff.
Pixo will become part of Sun's software division and its Mobile Download Server product part of Sun's Project Orion software stack, according to Eric Chu, director, J2ME Platform, in Sun's Software Systems Group. Project Orion will provide quarterly updates of Sun's key enterprise software products, including its Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Web Server, Application Server and server management products and its Solaris operating system.
"The initial market is focused on wireless carriers and people delivering content to mobile users, but we are also looking at selling to enterprise customers," said Jennifer Hom, Sun's J2ME Platform marketing manager.
Wireless carriers and enterprise customers will be interested in the products for different reasons, according to Chu. "The enterprise may not care about the billing, but they might care about the applications that have been downloaded, and this product could dramatically simplify provisioning of applications," he said.
Applying Pixo's content download management technology to enterprise problems is an intuitive move, according to John Jackson, a wireless technologies analyst with The Yankee Group in Boston.
"It's a very powerful tool for certain enterprise applications, including sales force automation," Jackson said.
Sun's Chu sees a market for downloadable content not just in mobile phones but also in automobiles, digital set-top boxes and home audio equipment. "We decided it would be important, not just for mobile but (for) other devices with a digital heartbeat," Chu said.
Sun must bring these disparate markets together under one umbrella if it is to see J2ME (Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition) develop, according to Jackson.
"Part of the issues that have caused J2ME to remain somewhat fragmented owe to the absence of a centralized control and provisioning apparatus," Jackson said. "This acquisition gives Sun a more holistic offering and more control over the environment. It positions them more favorably towards operators," he said.
Pixo's software is already used by a number of carriers, Chu said, including Vodafone Group PLC of Newbury, England, and Bell Mobility, the wireless subsidiary of BCE Inc. of Montréal.
Sun will complete the all-cash transaction in the third quarter of this year, Chu said. He did not disclose the value of the deal.
Pixo's rivals include Mobilitec Inc. of San Mateo, California; Openwave Systems Inc., in Redwood City, California, which acquired Java application download management technology from Ellipsus Systems Inc. in May, 2002, and Motorola Inc., in Schaumburg, Illinois, which acquired software developer 4thpass Inc. last September.
Although the Pixo acquisition will give Sun a much-needed boost in this field, it comes none too soon, according to Jackson: "I think you will also see 4thpass gathering considerable momentum over the next couple of months," he said.