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Microsoft sets stage for networking standard

The software giant moves forward in its drive to create a standard for its Universal Plug and Play home networking technology, announcing the creation of a new standards committee.

Microsoft has taken a step forward in its drive to create a standard for its Universal Plug and Play home networking technology, announcing the creation of a new standards committee.

Universal Plug and Play, or UPNP as Microsoft calls it, is a technology for connecting multiple devices throughout the home. Unlike early home networks, which required retrofitting homes with the necessary communication equipment, new technologies like phone line networks, UPNP, and Sun's Jini attempt to ease the process by integrating networking equipment into the devices themselves.

In addition to Microsoft, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Philips, Siemens, Sony, Thomson, and Honeywell will participate in the new standards committee, the companies announced.

Specifically, the committee will determine the creation and staffing of the separate working committees, according to Greg Sullivan, a product manager in Microsoft's consumer division. Although the core protocols have largely been determined, the committee will be in charge of creating lower-level protocols that each specific device will need to be UPNP-enabled, he said.

Because home networks will require the coexistence of disparate devices and appliances from different manufacturers, a standard for the communication technology is necessary, observers say. At the same time, any standards body with many large companies cooperating and compromising can take months or years to show progress, which can render the outcomes of their efforts obsolete.

The first UPNP-enabled products are not expected to hit stores until 2001.

Microsoft announced the formation of the UPNP Forum at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last April. Today, the company announced the formation of the UPNP Forum Steering Committee, which will in turn be responsible for determining the working committees which will then define the manner in which devices will communicate.

"What we're announcing is that some of the leading companies in their respective fields are taking an active role in establishing UPNP to allow consumers to connect devices and have them just work," Sullivan said. "The steering committee is setting the overall agenda and goals, like a board of directors."

The steering committee met for the first time this week, Sullivan said.

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