Jini Sun's entry to consumer electronics

The connect-anything-to-everything technology is the latest chapter in the company's plans to spread computing to every corner of the world.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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4 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems today unveiled Jini, declaring the easy-to-use networking technology will triumphantly carry the company into the world of consumer electronics.

Executives spared few words in describing the connect-anything-to-everything technology, the latest chapter in the Palo Alto, California, company's plans to spread computing to every corner of the world.

"Today we set a new direction for computing and devices for years to come," said Sun chief operating officer Ed Zander. "I'd like you to look forward to a new age of simplicity."

Jini is Java-based software that lets devices automatically "announce" themselves and say what they can do when plugged into a network. Sun believes the technology will be used not only at home and by small companies, but also by professionals on the road and in large corporations deploying devices across departments.

Sun called upon the services of chief executive Scott McNealy, Jini cofounder and chief scientist Bill Joy, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young to show off the technology that will transport Sun from the world of heavy-duty servers to souped-up dishwashers.

McNealy wasted no time raising expectations, saying that "Jini is probably the most compelling reason to program in Java."

For years, Sun's visionary statement has been "the network is the computer." Today McNealy quipped, "I didn't know what I meant 10 years ago when I said that, but now I'm starting to get it."

Mark Tolliver, president of Sun's consumer and embedded division, reinforced the message, promising that "by this time next year, the Jini logo will be pervasive."

Jini is a key piece of Sun's push into the world of embedded systems, the largely invisible computers that run VCRs, jumbo jets, factory robots, Furbies, network hardware, and countless other electronics devices. Sun's vision is to organize all of these devices into networks within networks within networks, letting all devices talk to each other via Java, a language designed across the boundaries of different chips and operating system.

Young was the centerpiece of a demonstration of Jini by chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos, who demonstrated using Jini to pay a cab fare electronically, print a snapshot taken with a digital camera at a kiosk, and send a request for 300 copies of the image to the Kinko's nearest 3Com Park.

During the debut, Sun executives further described the Jini "simply connect" philosophy at work, attaching new disk drives in a large company running out of storage space, downloading a new interface for a Sony minidisc player, and using an airport lounge system to notify a traveler with his Palm Pilot when his flight was about to leave.

Also today, McNealy took advantage of several opportunities to deride Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play initiative (announced earlier this month). It's hard to compare Jini, with numerous licensees and code out there for developers to test, to Microsoft's "slideware," software that companies haven't been using and don't know when it's coming, McNealy said.

When faced with someone else's technology, Microsoft's standard operating procedure is to make a counter-announcement, recruit people to work on it, define a specification, fail to win support for it, buy a competitor's product, and "promote it like crazy," he observed.

But McNealy targeted Joy during his traditional top-ten list, giving reasons for Joy's departure from Sun's headquarters to his current location in Aspen, Colorado. Some of the reasons--such as being able to blame bad ideas on high altitude--didn't elicit much mirth, and McNealy quipped, "You better laugh--they don't get any funnier than that."

Also today, Sun announced 37 industry partners who have licensed Jini.

3Com's Palm Computing is one of those partners, and Joy said he believes that personal digital assistants connected with wireless networks could be the area where Jini technology first becomes popular. For personal digital assistants, the question isn't whether it will have support for wireless networks, but how many different types of networks it will support, Joy said.

But 3Com's license still is at the no-fee, product development stage, said Mark Bercow, vice president for platforms at Palm Computing. 3Com hasn't announced any Jini products--the company is evaluating the technology.

Will a Jini-enabled Palm Pilot be hitting the shelves? "It's too early to say, but I believe the answer will be yes," Bercow said.

J.P. Morgenthal, a researcher at NC.focus, said he believes the battle with Microsoft will not take the form of Jini vs. Universal Plug and Play, but rather Jini vs. standards such as XML for delivering services over the Web.

Morgenthal said he was disappointed that Sun's Jini demonstrations centered on electronic gadgets, saying that he believes the technology will be useful in large corporations that need to deploy new capabilities across huge numbers of computers.

He didn't dismiss Sun's demonstration of a Jini-enabled dishwasher, however. Such a service might appeal to Whirlpool, which could charge a little extra for the prompt diagnosis over the Internet of whatever ill afflicts a person's machine. But the question remains, "Can they [Sun] get the manufacturers of these things to recognize the fact that this is valuable to the customer?"