Sun Microsystems is scaling back its Jini software intended to network
everything from kitchen appliances to cell phones, adding a stripped-down
version more likely to work on today's gadgets.
|Gartner analyst Mark Driver says that transformational leaps in network computing never occur at
blink-of-an-eye speeds and that the much-ballyhooed Java Jini software is a case in
Sun's Jini software initially was
designed to allow gadgets such as printers, cars, cameras or heart monitors
to easily form networks to share services such as printing or accessing data. But Sun's hopes for Jini-enabled gadgets arriving in 1999 proved to be overambitious, as developers
struggled with the difficulties of cramming Jini and its required software
underpinnings into devices with limited memory and processing power.
Sun hopes to have more success with the addition of a Jini "surrogate
architecture," said Jini marketing manager Franc Romano. The surrogate
architecture is midway between full-blown Jini and the Jini "proxy"
capability that allows processor-free devices like light switches to hook up
to Jini networks, he said.
Romano declined to guess when Jini-enabled devices will actually arrive, but
he predicted that the surrogate architecture would hasten the day.
"We have to wait for devices that have limited capability to evolve to the
point where they can run Jini at least in native mode," Romano said.
Jini is one of a number of technologies emerging to try to tie together
increasingly powerful gadgets. Sun's biggest competitor, Microsoft, is
pushing its own Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) system. Windows Millenium Edition (Me), which shipped last month, is the first Microsoft operating system to include support for UPnP. Microsoft claims that it has shipped more than 250,000 copies of Windows Me since its release.
Microsoft argues that one UPnP advantage is that it uses standard Internet communications methods instead of requiring use of Sun-controlled software. Sun counters that UPnP, for all its purported independence from PCs, is still designed to further a Microsoft-centric world.
Like Sun, Microsoft envisions a future where ordinary household appliances, such as coffeemakers, are intelligent devices that communicate with one another over a network. Microsoft claims that manufacturers are already designing devices that can communicate with Windows Me and its future UPnP-enabled operating systems. Such communications could result in VCRs that can stream video throughout a home, or thermostats that know to turn the heat down when the family is on vacation.
Other competitors, such as Salutation,
also are cropping up.
Sun and Microsoft care what technology is used in gadgets because it
determines which computing systems will best interact with the devices. UPnP is an extension of existing Microsoft-Intel hardware designs, whereas Jini bolsters Sun's push to spread the Java programming language from the
smallest device to the biggest server.
Jini's surrogate architecture enables devices to perform some basic Jini
tasks, such as identifying themselves on a network and interacting with
other devices, Romano said. But it doesn't require a "virtual machine," the
core of Sun's Java software technique to enable programs to run on a wide
number of computing devices without having to be rewritten for each one.
Though a Java virtual machine (JVM) makes life easier for programmers
writing software such as Web browsers or email clients that will run on lots
of gadgets, a JVM also requires more computing power and memory, resources
that increase a gadget's price tag and decrease its battery life.
The surrogate technology specification, currently in draft form but expected
to be completed in the next three or four months, is one of a host of Jini
developments from Sun.
At the LonWorld 2000 conference
Oct. 18, Sun plans to release a new version 1.1 of Jini, Romano said. The
new version comes with a number of "helper utilities," prewritten Jini
software programs that Jini developers were having to write over and over.
Next year, Sun will add improved security features to an upcoming version of
Jini, Romano said, including "remote authentication" features to let Jini
devices identify themselves or keep other unauthorized devices from
accessing their services.
In 1999, though, Sun said the improved security was planned for version 1.1.
One hurdle for using Jini in gadgets is that it requires Java software
called Remote Method Invocation (RMI), but RMI currently doesn't exist in
Sun's various flavors of Java 2 Micro Edition. Sun is working to bring
RMI to Java 2 Micro Edition, Romano said.
Jini isn't just for gadgets. The software also works as a way for software
services running on larger computers to announce themselves on a network.
Software services has been the first area where Jini achieved some
popularity, Sun has said.
Sun also is working on ways to get Jini to work better with large numbers of
gadgets or software components. Currently, Jini devices register themselves
and their capabilities in a table called "lookup service," but it's
difficult to stitch together lookup services.
Sun hopes to spread programmer interest next year by holding the first Jini
developers' conference, currently scheduled for early February on the West
Coast, Romano said. Sun hopes to have 500 at the conference.
"We feel now with 30,000 licensees, we have a critical mass of developers
out there who can benefit from having access to the architects and also from
sharing what they're doing," he said. In addition, developers will be able
to interconnect their Jini services to make sure they work together.