Sun's Jini battles Microsoft and others for instant networking market
February 24, 1999
by Steven Brody
(IDG) -- In January, Sun formally unveiled Jini, its networking technology designed to make the ungainly communication between hardware devices less confusing for consumers. Jini has been billed by Sun as the best networking solution to date, and quite a few third parties agree (as many as 37 had licensed Jini before the January unveiling). But Sun is not the only company to have identified the need for better networking, and other big names like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are pushing their own Jini alternatives.
Jini can be used to "connect anything to everything," as Sun puts it. Digital cameras can be instantly connected to printers, which can in turn be connected to a PC sitting on the same network with the dishwasher, coffee machine, and any other Jini-enabled device in the home or office, without the use of any additional software. The phone company has the right idea, Scott McNealy has said before, you just plug your phone in and dial.
"Sun's vision of computing is a promising one because it will allow a great variety of clients to participate on networks without the prior installation of special protocol stacks and LAN-specific software drivers on each client machine," said Jean Bozman,research manager with International Data Corp. (IDC). "Instead, the software drivers can be delivered via Java technology, on a just-in-time basis, as needed. Interoperability will be enhanced, and that interoperability will be good for end users both in the office and at home."
Microsoft, however, has a similar vision, called "Universal Plug and Play," which analysts expect will combine Internet and Windows technologies to instantly network Windows CE- and Windows 98-enabled devices. Universal Plug and Play will compete head to head with Jini, according to IDC, and will do its best to derail Sun's efforts from the outset.
"Microsoft has been actively marketing the concept of Universal Plug and Play to the same set of consumer electronics vendors currently studying the adoption of Jini," said Bozman. "This Microsoft effort could slow Jini adoption if it creates enough distraction or confusion among OEM hardware providers."
The first wave of Jini devices is due out later this year, which, says IDC, means an early advantage for Sun. Still, analysts caution, Sun has to move quickly to acquire as much of the market as possible before Microsoft ships Universal Plug and Play to the same manufacturers.
Sun is doing its best to ensure that device manufacturers completely understand the differences between Jini and Universal Plug and Play, and points to the fact that Jini is available to manufacturers now, whereas Universal Plug and Play has yet to appear.
"It's really difficult to compare something that exists, and something we're already selling developers licenses for, to Microsoft'slideware'," said McNealy. "I hope Universal Plug and Play doesn't appear as soon as 64-bit NT," he added.
Sun has also harped on Microsoft's PC-centric vision, calling the PC-based network an "arcane" architecture. Microsoft,however, says Universal Plug and Play will be nothing of the kind, and the company's Web site assures consumers that its vision for the future of instant networking does nowhere involve a PC. In fact, figuring out exactly what makes Jini different from Universal Plug and Play is nearly impossible.
Microsoft will tell you that Jini is a technology come from nowhere, and that Universal Plug and Play, by contrast, is based on well-established networking standards.
Gartner Group analyst Carolyn DiCenzo disagrees, saying instead that Jini is part of a coherent Java strategy with a clear vision."Jini is not at all out of the blue," said DiCenzo, "Sun has been releasing the Java components in pieces, and they have been training people on Jini for over a year now. The fact that they could demonstrate actual Jini-enabled devices is very impressive,and says that they have a lot of support, and that the technology is there."
The time is right
The appearance of Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play and Sun's Jini are well timed to meet a growing demand for less cumbersome networking. The potential for either or both is huge, according to DiCenzo, and the two companies aren't the only ones trying to open up the market.
"People are really ready for easier networking, and the fact that both Sun and Microsoft are trying to solve the problem says it is not just a new technology looking for a problem, but a problem looking for a solution. As computing becomes more pervasive with non-technical people, increased ease-of-use is more and more in demand."
Hewlett-Packard and IBM have also developed technology for instant networking. HP's JetSend is a platform-independent protocol that allows devices to "intelligently negotiate information exchange" without the need for a server or a device driver.The JetSend specification is available for download from HP, and licensees include several of the companies signed up with Jini.
HP itself has positioned JetSend, introduced two years ago, as complementary to Jini and Universal Plug and Play, suggesting a scenario in which Jini would connect two devices on the network, and JetSend would negotiate the appropriate data format for the exchange between, say, a word processor and a printer.
JetSend is presently only available in certain HP printers, but the company expects JetSend-enabled digital cameras, PDAs,electronic white boards, etc. to appear in the near future.
IBM's foray into simplified networking has come in the form of TSpaces, IBM's version of JavaSpaces, a collection of network communication buffers and a set of APIs (and classes that implement the APIs) for accessing those buffers. TSpaces allows heterogeneous, Java-enabled devices to exchange data with little programming effort. TSpaces are also complementary to Jini,as Jini itself uses JavaSpaces, which could be replaced by the IBM version.
Device manufacturers will have to play the field for a while, said Gartner Group's DiCenzo, and support Jini, Universal Plug and Play, JetSend, and other contenders as they appear, until one of the technologies becomes the standard.
"There is definitely room for more than one of these solutions. That's what competition is all about. Universal Plug and Play and Jini will compete for a while and it's only a matter of time until someone builds a bridge between them."
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