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Microsoft touts home networking plan

The company uncorks the second wave of its home networking initiative, Universal Plug and Play, and says the code for it will be made available.

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft today unveiled the second wave of its home networking initiative, trying to tap into the popularity of open source software.

At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here, Microsoft is uncorking Universal Plug and Play home networking technology. This nascent market has lately been garnering attention from most major technology companies, including Intel, 3Com, and Cisco, along with most major PC and peripheral companies, all vying to define the format--and the breadth--of the next generation of home technology services.

Sun Microsystems is developing its own protocol, Jini.

Microsoft today announced new industrywide support for Universal Plug and Play (UPNP), which is designed to connect consumer electronics devices with personal computers to create a home network capable of sharing devices and data. UPNP was first announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"We're feeling very bullish about the progress we've made to date," said Phil Holden, group product manager at Microsoft.

Microsoft is also announcing today that it is making the technology's source code available for free to parties interested in building UPNP devices. But don't start confusing Microsoft's initiative with open source projects like Linux.

UPNP technology will be available to anyone who wants it, said Holden, but the code is hardly a proprietary trade secret like the company's Windows NT kernel. UPNP is "a low-level selection of technologies...TCP/IP being a prime example," he said.

Even if Microsoft is not unlocking the key to all its company secrets, the move is designed to spur widespread support among consumer electronics companies, Holden said. "We're trying to make the source readily available for no cost?to gain adoption from industry," he said.

Microsoft already seems to be making inroads in this area. Today, the company is announcing that consumer electronics giant Sony is joining the UPNP initiative, a significant win because Sony had been working with Philips and Matsushita to develop a competing home networking technology. It is unclear what the status of that project is today.

In addition to Sony, Microsoft will announce about 20 new companies which will be supporting UPNP in upcoming products. The first UPNP enabled products are expected to hit stores for this holiday season, Holden said.

In keeping with the open source theme, Microsoft is emphasizing that its UPNP initiative is almost totally technology agnostic, perhaps in response to critics who questioned the appeal of a Windows-dominated home network.

"We're trying to clear up some of the information about UPNP," Holden said. "Just so we're clear: It isn't PC focused, there doesn't need to be a PC in the network to work. It's totally device to device, whether that device be a WebTV or a palm-size PC."

UPNP can work with devices running any operating system, Holden added, as well as Windows 98, Windows 2000, and the next version of Windows CE, code-named Cedar. Apple's Mac OS 8 includes support for some of the same protocols that UPNP uses, he said, although Apple has not yet signed on as a partner.

Microsoft partners like Diamond Multimedia and 3Com are demonstrating UPNP devices at the show, Holden said, which runs through this week.