Sun Microsystems Inc. last week unveiled its software
solution to how multiple networks and appliances can be linked to achieve the market
scales that will drive the development of advanced data services.
Sun named 37 companies as initial licensees of its new
"Jini" technology. These included major players in the convergence markets, such
as America Online Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Sony Corp., Samsung
Telecommunications America Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., Motorola Inc., Philips Consumer
Electronics Co., Toshiba America Consumer Products and Xerox Corp.
By embedding the Java-based Jini technology in their
products, licensees will be able to assure online connection of their customers to any
services that are Jini-enabled, officials said.
AOL -- the only service provider named as a licensee last
week -- sees the technology as a key to its efforts to penetrate all network environments,
said Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services.
"In the future, we believe that AOL households will
have a network of a variety of connected appliances," Schuler said, in a prepared
statement. "Jini will truly be instrumental in supporting our 'AOL
Jini is distinct from the type of Java-based middleware
that the cable industry is developing in conjunction with the OpenCable digital set-top
Java is meant to allow different types of set-tops to
interact with cable-delivered digital-TV services; Jini extends platform independence and
interoperability to all networked devices linking with any Jini-enabled service, said Jim
Waldo, Sun's chief architect for the new technology.
Waldo added that the first version is now complete,
allowing manufacturers to prepare Jini-enabled products for introduction in the fall.
"Jini can run over any network protocol," Waldo
said. "It eliminates the notion of having to interconnect services over standardized
wire or wireless systems."
A device loaded with Jini -- either in the manufacturing
process or through subsequent network download -- automatically configures itself when
connected to a Jini-enabled network, allowing all such devices to talk to each other and
to share tasks independent of the underlying operating system, processor or application
environment, Waldo said.
In a recent demonstration, Cisco and Sun created a
home-network environment linking digital TVs, cable modems, Internet video phones and
"Web slates" -- new types of computerized appliances without keys that provide
touch-screen access to networked applications.
"The consumer doesn't want to have to configure
devices to connect them to networks, and Jini eliminates this barrier," said Keith
Fox, vice president of worldwide corporate marketing at Cisco.
For example, he said, a consumer will be able to easily
purchase a Jini-enabled digital camera from Canon USA Inc. -- one of Sun's licensees
-- hook it up to the home network and begin printing pictures over a Jini-enabled digital
Similarly, people will be able to move devices from one
network to another without having to reconfigure them, Fox said.
"You bring a disk home from the office, plug it into
your home PC [personal computer] and access all of your work from home," he added.
The Sun move comes as computer and consumer-electronics
manufacturers are sorting through a variety of home-networking platforms in an attempt to
broaden the base for networked applications.
For example, Compaq Computer Corp., Microsoft Corp. and a
number of hardware and software allies are backing a telephone-wire-based
in-home-networking protocol known as "Home PNA" (Phone Network Alliance). PNA is
designed to enable the linking of multiple PCs in the home to a single Internet
Compaq recently announced a new line of
"Presario" PCs that enable Home PNA connection, noted Rick Rossler, a director
of product marketing in Compaq's consumer-products group.
"PNA is a key technology that makes home networking a
mass-market thing," he said.
"For years, people have plugged PCs into phone
jacks," Rossler added. "Now they can plug in and get an automatic network setup
for each PC."
The new software-based technology automatically configures
Windows 95 and 98 and does all of the network addressing, Rossler said. Users can purchase
a PNA card to plug into their PCs for $50, cutting the per-node networking costs by $50 to
$100 when compared with other technologies, he added.
Rossler characterized PNA as a first, narrowband step
toward home networking.
To accommodate broadband, consumer-electronics
manufacturers and other entities are backing the IEEE 1394 wiring technology -- known as
"fire wire" or "iLink" and, in the home-networking space, as
"HAVi," for Home Audio/Video interoperability. HAVi is a means of delivering
multiple data feeds simultaneously at 25 megabits per second to 30 mbps over twisted-pair
wires at distances of up to 150 feet.
Microsoft -- as usual, knocking heads with Sun -- has
introduced its own protocol, Universal Plug and Play, for accommodating interconnections
over HAVi and other advanced networks, said Joseph Mauhanna, group manager of
public-network platforms for Microsoft.
"Universal Plug and Play involves several
things," Mauhanna said, "including discovery protocols for devices and
appliances inside the home. It's about when you bring something inside the home, how
will other devices discover it and connect?"
As Waldo noted, Jini is indifferent to the various
physical-networking aspects of protocols such as HAVi or PNA, but it directly competes
with the discovery and connection capabilities entailed in PNA, Universal Plug and Play
and other concepts.
While the computer-manufacturing allies of Microsoft appear
drawn more to the Microsoft concept than to Jini, they are also backing HAVi, leaving the
consumer-electronics players in a key position to determine which device-connection
protocols will ride on top of the networking layer.
So far, Sun appears to be winning the battle on that front,
given the big consumer-electronics entities that it named as Jini licensees.
Sony, for example, believes that "by bringing HAVi to
Jini technology, we are also able to offer consumers access to the range of exciting
services that Jini will provide," said Akikazu Takeuchi, president of Sony's
Platform Software Development Center.
Sony would like to see an electronic-distribution medium
that will allow people to buy music or movies and download them directly to recordable
devices in the home, said Jim Bone, vice president of business development for Sony
"You want to have all of these devices digitally
linked -- your digital-TV set, digital VCR, your PC, etc.," Bone said. "You like
to be able to enable new services that don't exist today."
For broadband-service providers, paying attention to the
link between the development of Jini-enabled services and Jini-enabled appliances promises
to be a key part of formulating service strategies as the year unfolds. Momentum in this
direction could take a lot of the confusion out of sorting through in-home-networking