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Java wars move to consumer front

Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft partner to compete against Sun in the nascent market to network consumer electronics.

The Java wars have spilled into the consumer market.

Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft are teaming to compete against Sun Microsystems in the nascent market for technology that networks consumer electronic devices.

HP last week released a Java-based version of Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) software, which uses Internet protocols to automatically connect devices, such as digital cameras and printers, without the need of computers.

Sun Microsystems is developing its own software, called Jini, based on the Java programming language.

These rivals see a networked future where consumers can, for example, turn on their ovens from their office Web browser before heading home. Or, perhaps more realistically in the near term, a future where business travelers can easily plug their notebook PCs to hotel printers. As reported, both companies feel their respective networking software can drive sales of their operating systems and servers.

Zona Research analyst Ron Rappaport said HP's entry adds another flavor to the Java fight. "It's like Microsoft and HP are trying to put Jini back in the bottle," he said. "Initially, it was Java as a language, then the platform, then JavaBeans as a component architecture. Now they're battling it out to secure their architecture to connect Internet appliances."

HP has entered the fray with the release of the Java-based Chai Appliance Plug and Play. "It's a Web-based assault on Jini," said Christopher Schoppa, director of Web-based products for HP's embedded software operation.

Analysts say Sun faces a two-pronged attack as it fights for dominance to create a ubiquitous network that connects everything from light switches to computers.

Sun has had to compete against Microsoft, which is bundling its version of UPNP with devices using the Windows operating system. But with HP's Java version of UPNP, Sun loses the competitive edge of being the Java innovator, said Yankee Group analyst Karuna Uppal.

"If you have a Java-enabled device, now [using HP's technology] you can connect it using the Universal Plug and Play scheme," she said.

HP's entry gives device manufacturers who want to use Java, such as cell phone makers, another option besides Jini, Uppal said. "Having options in the market is always a good thing. It will allow companies to evaluate which is more appropriate and cost-effective for them."

For Sun, Jini represents the technology that Sun needed to realize their goals of having Java become ubiquitous, Rappaport said. Sun executives could not be reached for comment.

Now it's a race for the rivals to sign up as many consumer electronic device companies as they can--and it will take time for a winner to emerge, Uppal said. "Sun has partners evaluating and developing products. Microsoft has done the same thing, and HP is doing this as well."

But she and others caution consumers not to expect to see revolutionary networking technology on retail shelves tomorrow.

"We're not going to see products roll out in the next few months," Uppal said. All three companies "have very grand ideas, which is good. But they're all out further in the future than anyone wants to admit."

Sun released the first version of Jini in January and is developing newer versions. Microsoft unveiled UPNP at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last Wednesday. At the show, Microsoft executives touted the technology as the format to network consumer devices and PCs together in the home.

HP and Microsoft have worked together on the UPNP specification. In fact, the two companies last week submitted a proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force to have a protocol become the part of Universal Plug and Play that lets devices discover each other so that they can connect to each other.

The threat of Hewlett-Packard's Java-based UPNP software isn't the first time the company has jousted with Sun over Java. Last year, HP created its own clean-room version of the Java Virtual Machine for embedded systems. HP has also cloned Sun's Java compatibility tests.

Schoppa, HP's director of Web-based products, said Jini and HP's Java-based UPNP software have the same features. When devices using the software are plugged into a network, they automatically announce themselves and their capabilities.

The difference is that UPNP can work with any computing language and uses Web-based protocols, such as HTTP, for devices to communicate. In contrast, Jini uses a Java standard called Remote Method Invocation (RMI), he said.

Schoppa added that HP's software is compatible with Microsoft's UPNP but isn't compatible with Jini. Connecting software would need to be created to bridge the two, he said.

HP pursued its own embedded software strategy after a dispute with Sun over Java licensing terms. But other parts of HP, including its enterprise division, are still working with Sun on Java.

In fact, a Sun spokeswoman said HP's printer division is working to integrate Jini with HP's Jet Send technology, which lets devices, such as printers, share data. But Schoppa said Jet Send is technology agnostic and also supports UPNP.

Rappaport said there may never be a clear winner in the fight between UPNP and Jini. Appliance and device manufacturers may hedge their bets and support both technologies.

As an example, Rappaport cited last year's decision by cable provider Tele-Communications Incorporated to support both Microsoft Windows CE and Sun's Java operating system in future set-top boxes.

"History tells us both camps are competent," he said. "Both sides will have momentum."