Navigating U of I's Wireless Websites
John Schmitz, 217-244-2291, email@example.com, Writer, Debra
Levey Larson, 217-244-2880, firstname.lastname@example.org
Although we can't quite throw away our extension cords yet, the
day is coming sooner than ever imagined. More and more websites
are now also accessible without a standard electrical outlet in
sight on Internet-ready cell phones and palm devices. Several
popular University of Illinois websites have recently joined the
list of wireless sites. The portal to the U of I College of Agricultural,
Consumer and Environmental Sciences wireless websites is mobile.aces.uiuc.edu
The interactive web version of the Illinois Agronomy Handbook
is one of the sites now accessible via wireless devices. The website
includes the full text of all of the chapters along with the interactive
features like calculators and databases. Although the Agronomy
Handbook has been online for four years, it has only been in the
past two years that mobile access to selected handbook resources
has been developed, allowing users to access text and data and
make calculations in the field.
"Users can query climate data, convert units, and calculate
replanting benefits. It's like a mobile cyberfarm," said
John Schmitz, U of I computer specialist. "Any cell phone
that is ‘wireless web-ready’ can access the site using
the phone’s micro-browser, a small version of Netscape or
Explorer. Access for PDAs like the PocketPC is also being developed."
The Nutritional Analysis Tool (NAT), originally developed by
U of I professor Jim Painter, is also accessible on Internet-ready
cell phones. "It's a natural for wireless. It's like having
your own personal nutrition advisor with you wherever you go,"
said Schmitz. "Nutrition facts are key to a healthy lifestyle
but often we don't have access to the facts when they're needed.
Wireless NAT provides the facts to us on the go when decisions
are actually being made like what to eat and how much to eat --
whether we're standing in the aisle at the grocery store or in
line at a fast food restaurant." Schmitz said that web server
statistics show that the original web-based NAT site is the number
one outreach website on the U of I campus.
Taking a website to the wireless level has its challenges. "Creating
content for the wireless web using special protocols called WAP
& WML is like programming basic html web pages in the 'frontier
days' of the web almost ten years ago," said Schmitz. He
explained that programming standards for wireless web are not
uniform, making it difficult to write code that works on all devices.
Rural access is another issue; cell phone towers may be ubiquitous
on the American landscape but not digital ones and the cost of
mobile devices and connectivity is yet another issue.
"Greater ease of use is needed, too. While PDAs are relatively
easy to use, cell phone browsers are still awkward to use,"
he said. "While we will continue to develop our wireless
websites for cell phone access, we plan to focus on development
on PDA and related mobile devices. These devices offer several
advantages over cell phones since they have larger screens, true
operating systems and processors, and wireless Ethernet access
to the true web. Given these features, we will be able to better
reproduce the features of the Agronomy Handbook and the Nutritional
Analysis Tool for access by mobile devices."
Schmitz says that someday a wireless outreach service for the
University of Illinois will make a mobile digital library of documents,
tools and data available to 3G devices (third generation). "It's
the cutting edge of wireless cell phone technology and is already
being deployed in Europe and Japan." It offers users much
higher speed internet access from your device, enabling the range
of content and services that depend on higher bandwidth like video
conferencing with speeds that can reach up to 384 kps. "Down
the road will be the 5G standard that will take us even closer
to those handheld devices that the Star Trek crew carried."