Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UpnP) software uses Internet protocols to allow devices such as computers, scanners and printers to automatically discover each other so they can communicate. Sun Microsystems builds rival software called Jini that is based on the Java programming language.
Six companies, including Intel, Linksys and Nortel Networks spinoff NetGear, say they will support UpnP in their future family of home networking devices, called "gateways," that allow consumers to connect electronic devices, such as PCs and kitchen appliances, together and share Internet access. In the future, for example, people could use their computers in their bedrooms to turn off the oven in the kitchen.
The UpnP software lies at the heart of Microsoft's strategy for the emerging home networking market. Tech companies and consumer-electronics makers envision a future in which every electronic gadget is networked in the home and can communicate.
Microsoft is supporting UpnP in its forthcoming Windows XP operating system, which will make it simpler for PCs and other devices to announce themselves on a network to exchange data.
With UpnP, for example, consumers using the gateway products to connect their PCs will allow the PCs in the house to automatically find each other and communicate without consumers having to configure the computers. Microsoft executives say this will allow people in the house to do videoconferencing or play multiplayer video games.
Other network equipment makers supporting UpnP include Arescom, Buffalo Technologies and D-Link Systems. Microsoft executives expect the first devices with UpnP to ship later this year. Hundreds of companies support UpnP, including Maytag, Eastman Kodak, Canon and Compaq Computer.