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Intel: Networking plan moving forward

On the heels of news that Sun, Sony, and Philips are collaborating on home networking technology, the chip giant says support for its API initiative is growing.

On the heels of news that Sun, Sony, and Philips are collaborating on home networking technology, Intel today said that support for a home networking initiative being pushed by the chip giant and certain PC companies is growing.

At an Intel-sponsored conference in Hillsboro, Oregon, the company said that 28 new supporters of the "Home API Working Group" are on board in an effort to develop a common method for computerized control of home devices.

Industry watchers hope that the effort will lead to the development of home automation software that could allow for remote monitoring of home security cameras from a PC, automatically set lighting and/or alarms for events such as vacations, or the ability to turn furnaces on and off. But software programmers writing applications aimed at enabling these gee-whiz features need to be able to control appliances from a variety of companies, necessitating industry-wide cooperation.

The Home API Working Group, which already includes Intel, Microsoft, Compaq, and consumer electronics companies such as Philips Electronics has been working since late last year on standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) that emphasize controlling appliances from a centralized point--typically a PC.

A battle for the home is shaping up
Ultimately, it's "all about fighting for [control over] APIs," said David Card, senior analyst with Jupiter Communications. Hence, control over how a company's technology and products fit into this emerging market also is at stake.

The addition of companies such as IBM, AMD, Diamond Multimedia, and a host of smaller companies with home networking technologies is designed to show strength for the initiative in light of yesterday's news from Sun Microsystems, Sony, and Philips. (See related story).

Those companies are working to ensure that Sun's Jini technology can communicate with digital "home appliances" that incorporate a home networking scheme called HAVi.

Intel expressed confidence that the Home API effort will take root. "We are confident that this level of support for a common software interface will speed deployment of new home automation applications, controllable devices, and home networks," Ed Arrington, the Home Initiative Manager at Intel Architecture Labs, said in a statement.

"Standards and initiatives don't make a market, endorsement does. Today's announcement shows there's a tremendous endorsement for the Home API group," said Richard Doherty, president of consulting firm The Envisioneering Group. "They all know [this market] can't go anywhere if a red box can't connect with green or blue boxes," meaning that, no matter who the manufacturer, or how a device connects to a network, they need to be able to "talk" to one another via a common language.

Doherty said he expects as many as a dozen more companies to join the group in coming weeks.

Sony potentially could be on the list of Home API supporters, though the company said it sees the various technologies at issues playing different roles.

HAVi and Jini are distributed systems, meaning that "any device on the network can be a controlling device," said Mack Araki, Sony spokesperson. In contrast, Home API places the PC at the center of the network.

"We would like to build a bridge with Home API," Araki added. However, what consumer electronics companies are doing by offering a "bridge" to other protocols is that they are not likely to cede complete control to the PC industry by allowing the PC to be the sole controlling device.

What is likely in the near term is that companies will continue to work on an array of initiatives in order to hedge bets on which technology wins out in the market.

Microsoft, for instance, is working on a separate but similar initiative called "Universal Plug and Play" that would work use the Jini-HAVi technology. It too leaves the PC at the center of the network. Alternately, Microsoft has licensed Sony technology based on the HAVi specification.

Analysts said all of the efforts overlap in one way or another, as companies rush to push their view on how the technology--and the market--for home networks should develop. Home networking is a real market that is "growing so quickly, all of these companies want to make sure they are not left on sidelines," Doherty said.