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Vendors support Java spec to link appliances via Internet

by Dana Gardner


(IDG) -- The dream of a world in which many devices -- from home heating systems to factory robots -- can be connected via the Internet came a step closer to reality this week with the announcement that a group of 15 companies is creating a broad Java gateway specification.

News of the specification comes as work on the Java embedded devices front is consolidating under the designs of Sun Microsystems, as well as the word that Sun has debuted a new gateway server and plans to soon bring its Jini technology into the overall stew.

Together, the announcements could provide for the creation of applications that gather information from and direct commands to just about any appliance fitted with a meager level of intelligence. Steps are under way to build the applications and servers, as well as the smart devices.

What has been missing, according to industry analysts, is the glue of an effective wireless or wired network between them.

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That is where the OSG 1.0 specification comes in. It is the focus of the Open Services Gateway Initiative, a task force set up to define standards that link various remote environments, from branch offices and scattered workplaces to homes and schools.

The effort is expected to use Java and the standards creation process behind it to forge a series of "vendor-neutral" LAN to WAN technologies, the group announced.

The OSG 1.0 gateway will be created under the auspices of the Sun-led Java Community Process. A draft of the specification is expected by mid-1999, the companies announced.

Also, the Real-Time Expert Group was announced to deliver a reference implementation for embedded Java by April 2000. The 20-member group, led by Greg Bollella, IBM's top engineer in real-time Java, is also being orchestrated under Sun's Java Community Process.

That process, announced in December by Sun, was preceded by Sun's standards work that came under fire from a group led by Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. Those companies joined with a dozen others and threatened to divide the market for embedded Java technology.

That effort to wrest control of real-time Java from Sun apparently failed, however, when the National Committee for Information Technology Standardization earlier this year declined to oversee development of the alternative real-time specification.

The OSG 1.0 specification, if it pans out, will provide a common foundation for ISPs, network operators, and equipment makers to offer a standardized software environment and gateway to servers, such as Sun's offering, placed in far-flung environments.

"By combining wireline, wireless, and Internet technologies, network operators and ISPs will bring consumers completely new services," said Torbjorn Nilsson, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Ericsson, in a statement.

The alliance hopes the new standards will grease the skids for delivery, installation, deinstallation, and management of applications that handle security, energy management, emergency health care, and Internet commerce services, among others. The result should be the opening of vast new markets for ISPs, systems vendors, and software developers.

The vendors behind the OSG 1.0 drive are Alcatel, Cable & Wireless, Electricite de France, Enron Communications, Ericsson, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, Network Computer Inc., Nortel Networks, Oracle, Philips Electronics, Sun, Sybase, and Toshiba.

The real-time Java specification, due by year's end, is being cobbled together by Aonix, Apogee Software, Carnegie Mellon University, Cyberonix, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Lucent Technologies, Microware Systems, Mitsubishi Electric America, Mitre, Motorola, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Nortel Networks, NSI Com, QSSL, Rockwell Collins, Schneider Automation, Sun, Thomson-CSF, and Wind River Systems.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Dana Gardner is based in New Hampshire.

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