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Sun, Sony, Philips wiring homes

The companies say their objective is to make devices using Sun's Jini technology communicate with digital "home appliances" made by the other two.

Sun is linking up with Sony and Philips in an effort to network devices as diverse as PCs and VCRs--a move that may move Sun closer to the consumer electronics market.

The three companies said the objective is to make devices using Sun Microsystems' Jini technology communicate with digital "home appliances" from Sony and Philips' which incorporate a home networking scheme called HAVi.

Both technologies are aimed at putting computing intelligence in everything from printers and digital cameras to DVD players and even light systems--in other words, anything that benefits from being connected to a network. For example, users could remotely operate a tape program on a VCR from the office, or a newspaper company could send the day's news to a home printer, the companies said.

"What [these companies are] looking at is how to connect devices in the easiest manner," said Karuna Uppal, home networking analyst with the Yankee Group.

At the heart of the explosion of interest in networking PCs and home appliances: Companies are hoping to define who will be able to provide advanced services to homes of the future, and hence, the ability to enter and control new markets.

A recent Yankee Group study found that 30 percent of households in the United States--or 13.4-percent of all households--that already own PCs are keen on the idea of tying together household electrical devices. This market will grow significantly as more consumers hook up with Internet services via high-speed modems and try out applications that are not tied to the PC, such as multiplayer gaming.

Sun, Microsoft competing to link world of PC, appliances
Though Sun seems to be getting a strong endorsement here, there's always the Microsoft alternative. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft introduced a similar initiative called "Universal Plug and Play" that appears to leave the personal computer at the center of the network, while the Jini-HAVi system doesn't, analysts said.

"If you want to make connections between audio-visual devices, avoiding PCs, then you could use the Jini-HAVi system," said Motoya Ogami, an analyst at Gartner Group. Consumers would be able to see what devices are available on a network by viewing information on a TV, and could conceivably control them using a remote control, for instance.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is hoping to leverage its power in the emerging market for home networks by leaving the PC at the center of control for a growing array of non-PC digital devices. Sony and Philips' work with Sun doesn't neccesarily preclude Microsoft from being able to connect to HAVi devices.

Microsoft has licensed Sony technology based on the HAVi specification, and Sony, for one, is open to "working with other technologies as necessary," said Mack Araki, a spokesperson for Sony.

PC companies face challenges in networking homes
While Microsoft and Sun have been enormously successful in the world of desktop and server computer networks, home networking is another beast altogether.

"Anytime anyone enters the consumer market, is has to be easy to use. People aren't going to want to figure out why some device isn't connecting or working. They are also going to have to allow price points that consumers are willing to pay," said Uppal in a previous interview with CNET

"What do consumer electronics companies know about networking? Probably not a whole lot," said David Card, a senior analyst with Jupiter Communications. Sony and Philips want to tap into Sun's expertise in the networking area--while still maintaining their own influence over the development of technologies for digital appliances, he noted.