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Microsoft jumps hurdles to take on Sun's Jini

Universal Plug and Play, which is designed to allow devices, appliances and home computers to communicate, faces significant hurdles from both outside and inside the company.

NEW ORLEANS--What Microsoft is calling the future of networking technology faces significant hurdles from both outside and inside the company.

Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) is software designed to allow networked devices, appliances and home computers to communicate and share information. The technology, expected to be widely available by late next year, competes with several other initiatives; one of those is Sun Microsystems' Jini, which is designed to perform the same functions using Java-based technology.

Microsoft and Sun, along with a host of PC and consumer electronics companies, are angling to dominate the technological standards for the next generation of home computing, in which devices and computers will be connected by broadband Internet pipes, sharing information over high-speed Internet connections.

This year at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHec), Microsoft is promising hardware engineers and software developers that the specification and technology will be complete and out the door by next year's holiday season. In the meantime, the UPNP working group, which includes consumer electronics makers, device manufacturers and PC makers, must hammer out marketing and logistical details.

Last year at the show, Microsoft announced widespread industry support for the initiative, making the UPNP source code available for free to interested developers.

The company has made significant progress in the past year, signing up 129 companies to work on the specification, according to Greg Sullivan, a product manager in Microsoft's home networking group.

Sullivan attributed some of the progress to the growing availability of non-PC devices and to the larger market for these lower-cost appliances.

"Technology is getting cheaper, and it's showing up in cheaper appliances," he said.

Still, UPNP will not be supported in the next version of Windows CE, a potential stumbling block in Microsoft's immediate plans to compete in the appliance realm.

Windows CE 3.0, which will Jini's bottleneck ship in June, is designed precisely for the types of non-PC appliances and devices that Microsoft envisions communicating via UPNP. The lack of support is an oversight, Microsoft says, caused by the recent reorganization of the appliance group and lag time between product release cycles.

"Every operating system will have UPNP support," promised Carl Stork, general manager of the Windows operating system group. "It's a given."

Microsoft said that the first operating system to support the technology will be Windows Me, the next version of Windows 98, due sometime this year.