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PC World

Who dreams of Jini?


Sun launches software designed to let appliances ranging from digital assistants to dishwashers talk amongst themselves.

January 27, 1999
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

by James Niccolai

(IDG) -- Sun Microsystems launched its new Jini technology here on Monday, pitching it as an easy-to-use, vital platform for connecting appliances over home networks and the Internet.

Jini is designed to allow a whole range of electronics devices -- from handheld computers and cellular phones to VCRs and dishwashers -- to "talk" to each other in a network and share information and resources regardless of their underlying operating system or hardware, Sun officials said.

"Jini is about simplicity and about the age of network services," said Ed Zander, Sun's chief operating officer. "To give anyone, anytime, anywhere, from any device the capability to get a 'Web tone' as reliably and as easily as we get a dial tone. That's what Jini is all about."

Jini will be essentially invisible to users, and should also allow them to easily plug printers, personal computers, and other appliances into any type of network without having to know anything about device drivers or system compatibility, Zander said.

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Sun announced that 37 hardware and software vendors have agreed to license the Jini source code. They include consumer electronics heavyweights like Sony and Philips, office equipment makers such as Xerox and Canon, and computing firms like Novell and IBM. Sun also said that the finished version of the Jini source code is available on the company's Web site.

Dishwasher demos

In several demonstrations here involving digital cameras, Personal Digital Assistants, a home theater system, and even a dishwasher, Sun officials showed how they think Jini-enabled products can make life a whole lot simpler for consumers and professionals trying to access services over the Internet.

While the products aren't expected to ship until the end of this year, Sun hopes to shore up support for its technology now in order to create industry momentum. In particular, Sun will try to preempt interest in Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play technology, which was announced earlier this month and promises similar capabilities to Sun's Jini.

"Jini is different from the PC because there's no central control, no monopolist pulling the strings," Bill Joy, chief Jini architect, Sun cofounder, and company vice president, said in a thinly veiled jab at Microsoft.

Sun expects the first Jini devices to appear will be for the small office and consumer markets, like printers, scanners, handheld computers, and VCRs, said Richard Gabriel, Sun distinguished engineer. If things go to plan, users should be able to buy products by early next year that allow them to set their VCRs using a cellular phone on the way home from work, for example, he added.

Next, Sun hopes Jini will create a market for new Internet-based services that use Jini. For example, a company could rent out storage space on large servers where customers can upload video and other large data files from their PCs. Eventually, the company hopes services and products for enterprise markets will emerge, Gabriel said.

Unbottling Jini

Analysts at the Jini launch event Monday were divided over the technology's likely impact.

"Getting consumer electronics manufacturers to put this in their products is no easy play," said J.P. Morgenthal, president and director of research at information systems advisory company NC.Focus. These manufacturers already have the FireWire high-speed interface standard and the Home Audio/Video Interoperability specification to help their products interoperate, and Sun will need to show them a compelling reason to build Jini into their products, Morgenthal said.

By contrast, Jean Bozman, a research manager with International Data Corporation, said that Sun has created existing relationships with electronics manufacturers through Java that it can exploit with Jini.

In addition, Bozman said, early adopters can benefit from buying a few Jini-enabled products for use over a home or local area network even before the technology gains broad support. "Even given just the products you have on show here today, you can make Jini into something useful," she said.

Sun requires that all Jini products carry the Jini logo -- a genie lamp with a puff of smoke emerging from the spout.

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