A privately held company with offices in Los Gatos, Calif., and Manchester, England, claims to have developed software that will allow programs built for a specific computer chipset or operating system, such as Macintosh or Windows, to run on any other platform–including the open-source Linux OS–with few, if any, hang-ups in speed or performance. If the company’s claims are true, its software could prove extremely useful for schools.

In schools, the technology could eliminate the need for administrators to weigh the benefits of one software platform against the conveniences of another.

“QuickTransit could be extremely valuable for our limited number of systems on alternate platforms,” predicted Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of schools in Rochester, N.H., “and could allow us to use software that we have avoided in recent years because it was not developed for cross-platform use.”

Based on research initially conducted at the University of Manchester, Transitive Corp.’s QuickTransit program aims to play the role of integrator in the long-segregated world of software. No matter what native language a software application speaks, its developers say, the technology will allow programs to function “transparently” across any other platform or processor.

The product represents a potential boon for educators, many of whom have been forced to abandon useful software applications as a result of district-wide standardization–a common trend among IT staff that seeks to eliminate technological headaches by moving every computer on the network to a single platform.

If it works as advertised, QuickTransit also could speed up the adoption of Linux in schools. The open-source platform is seen by many IT directors as a less expensive alternative to proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows, but the scarcity of programs written for Linux by mainstream software developers has hindered the use of Linux in schools so far.

Rather than limiting users to only those applications supported by a particular platform or processor, Transitive President and CEO Bob Wiederhold said, the QuickTransit architecture will allow computer makers to expand the number of applications supported by their various platforms.

This way, if schools want to upgrade to a new Itanium-powered server, for instance, officials needn’t worry about the cost of porting information saved on the old server to the new one, Wiederhold said. Instead, QuickTransit would perform the translation automatically, thus eliminating the need for a complicated, expensive, and often imprecise technological process.

QuickTransit is the only “universal emulator” that is 100-percent transparent to the end user, Wiederhold contends, meaning there is little or no difference between an application running in its native environment and an application as it appears on a foreign system. “Many of the previous emulators have used a very different approach,” Wiederhold said, referring to the process by which his company’s product deciphers and translates code from one system to another.

Instead of translating code one strand at a time, QuickTransit has the ability to decipher chunks of code at once, he explained. The process boosts the speed at which this conversion occurs, thus enabling the emulator to perform at the same level as the native application. The result is a mirror image of the original software application–identical in both performance and functionality, Wiederhold said.

Where its predecessors traditionally were limited to point-to-point applications–meaning a product that supported, say, Windows to Mac and Mac to Windows conversions would not support a Linux to Mac conversion, and so on–QuickTransit reportedly can be paired with virtually any processor or operating system.

Its only weakness, Wiederhold said, is computational performance, though it isn’t likely that users will notice much of a lag up front. At 80-percent speed, Wiederhold said, the emulator is fully capable of meeting the majority of users’ needs. Users also will not have to worry about performing any of the conversions themselves, he said; the moment a foreign application is executed, QuickTransit begins processing the translation–“like turning English to French.”

Transitive is currently negotiating with several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build the technology into existing server and storage products. The company also is exploring the possibility of pre-installing QuickTransit on desktop and notebook computers, too, though no deals have been announced publicly, Wiederhold said.

Because Transitive would not divulge the names of companies it is negotiating with, finding an objective source that could verify the company’s claims about its technology was not possible. Industry analysts familiar with the company’s technology did not return an eSchool News reporter’s telephone calls before press time.

For now, the company will focus its efforts on attracting large OEMs, though Wiederhold said he has not ruled out the possibility of offering a stand-alone product sold directly to consumers.

Despite its potential, QuickTransit will not necessarily cure all administrators’ cross-platform headaches.

“Anytime we can improve connectivity and compatibility, it is a good thing,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California. “However … the issue that this software does not address, and is the significant one for my district, is that of support.”

Whether a program runs through the emulator on a foreign platform or runs in its native environment, the same technical support rules still apply, Liebman explained, meaning districts seeking to experiment with more cross-platform applications must have IT staff on hand who are fluent in the various software languages.

In places like Marysville, where the district is 90-percent PC-based, Liebman says there simply aren’t enough people on staff to deal with the many issues likely to crop up when integrating foreign software applications, even if the technology to do it exists.

“We adopted the PC platform because we had to choose one we [could] support,” Liebman said. “While some schools have Macs, the district does not have the staff to support them. That being the case, this product probably will not have the value that it would for districts that have mixed platforms.”

Yeagley agreed, saying Rochester would continue to work with a single platform for nearly all of its systems, but that he would consider the use of QuickTransit for select machines running on alternate platforms.

“We will certainly be looking for release of [this] product for local workstations,” he said.

Links:

Transitive Corp.
http://www.transitive.com