Questions raised over Jini as Sun joins rival plug-n-play consortium

Pervasive computing took another step forward last month when Sun Microsystems joined the Universal Plug and Play Consortium...

Pervasive computing took another step forward last month when Sun Microsystems joined the Universal Plug and Play Consortium (UPnP). But, given that the company is already heavily involved in its own pervasive computing strategy called Jini, this seems like a strange turn of events, writes Danny Bradbury

Sun originally launched Jini in January 1999, when it was billed as a network connectivity technology to enable devices and services to speak to each other intuitively. Since then, the company has signed multiple deals with partners that have agreed to support the technology and produce devices and services aimed at both the consumer and the corporate markets.

UPnP, formed in June 1999, now boasts a membership of about 250 companies, spanning the computer networking, security and consumer electronics fields. Its goal is similar to Sun's - to create an environment for the intuitive networking of devices in both the consumer and corporate worlds.

In simple terms, devices will be able to find each other across the network and advertise their availability.

Both initiatives are peer-to-peer architectures, under which distributed networks can be created using common protocols.

With Jini seeming to compete with UPnP, why would Sun become involved in the younger movement?

The move seems particularly odd, given that one of the driving forces behind UPnP is the company's old nemesis Microsoft. Indeed, UPnP is a development of the original plug-and-play technology delivered in Microsoft's Windows 95. In addition, the first UPnP-enabled "device" delivered, following the ratification of version 1.0 of the UPnP specification in June, was Windows ME.

"We joined the initiative to get information on where the technology is at and where it falls from a commercial perspective," said Curtis Sasaki, director of product marketing for consumer technologies at Sun.

Sasaki's title gives away the company's main interest in UPnP, which he described as a "consumer networking technology", in spite of the consortium's insistence that it is also a corporate standard. He said that, at this early stage, it is impossible to tell whether Sun will do anything with UPnP at all.

Sun's intentions for Jini are much more balanced. While it is partnering with consumer technology companies, it also has a number of corporate projects underway in the Jini development community. These include a collaborative development of Jini-based automotive services for automobile networking and an online trading information retrieval system.

Services and devices announced with partner companies include Frontiers, a system to manage medical records, and, according to Sasaki, a Jini-enabled Web server that can enlist the help of other Web servers in the event of traffic overload.

In the meantime, the company has announced version 1.1 of the Jini technology, which includes "helper" utilities to make implementation easier. It has also released Jiro, a distributed storage management technology built on top of Jini, along with Jini-based printing services for the office environment. Nevertheless, no commercially available Jini devices have yet been released, so it seems that the company's pervasive computing model still has to bear fruit.

Objectives of the UPnP

Extract from the inaugural letter of the UPnP Forum's newsletter

The Forum has the objective of launching an industry based on the vision of pervasive connectivity of all device types everywhere, to improve quality of life. If I'm browsing an electronic programme guide while travelling, I should be able to order a specific program to be recorded on my digital video recorder at home. My calendar at work should be able to set my alarm clock at home when I have an unusually early appointment, such as a conference call to Europe. My personal computer in my home office should be able to service photo slide shows to my television and digital music play lists to my stereo system in the family room.

UPnP is the most natural extension of the Internet into everyday devices and intelligent appliances. It builds on IP, TCP, UDP, HTTP, and XML among other existing technologies, and its contract for device interoperability is based on declarative data over a wire protocol, namely XML over HTTP, which is similar to the Internet HTML over HTTP. In addition to learning from and leveraging proven success, this approach has the advantage of paving the way for connecting these devices to the Internet.

Salim AbiEzzi, MicrosoftUPnP Steering Committee chairman

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