Sun dreams of Jini 2.0

Sun Microsystems is readying a major upgrade to its Jini networking technology for release at its JavaOne developer conference being held in San Francisco next month, sources close to the company said.

The Jini Starter Kit 2.0 is expected to include a brand new security model that will allow servers and devices running Jini to determine whether code downloaded from elsewhere in a network is trustworthy. Also expected is a new implementation of Java RMI (Remote Method Invocation), called Jini Extensible Remote Invocation (JERI), which should help Jini programs to better interoperate with other, non-Jini applications, according to sources familiar with Sun's plans.

Starter Kit 2.0 is also expected to include new utility classes, new versions of Jini's discovery protocols, and a new service runner framework, the sources said.

Sun declined to comment on its plans for any unannounced products.

When Jini was first released in 1999, Sun positioned it as a way to enable a futuristic plug-and-play world where a variety of networked devices -- everything from toasters to printers -- would be able to automatically discover and communicate with each other. Sun's vision of a Jini-enabled living room failed to materialize, in part because Internet-enabled devices were slow to take off, and the technology has failed to achieve the broad level of industry support Sun had hoped for, observers said.

"I think the reason for the slow adoption of Jini has more to do with how it was marketed than the technology itself," said Jini developer Frank Sommers, whose company, Autospaces, has used Jini to automate the management of an automotive inventory system for car dealers. Because of its early market positioning, Sommers said, Jini is not supported by as many enterprise-level products and tools as it could be. "The best support that someone could come up with would be an application server that would be based on Jini," he said.

Jini Senior Product Marketing Manager Jennifer Kotzen said that while Sun has not integrated Jini into any of its products, it still holds promise as a means of administering network nodes that may not easily be reachable -- things like cell phones or computer sensor equipment on the ocean floor. And while she said Jini's Internet-enabled device story remained "exciting," she added that it was "definitely not" the only place the networking software would be used. According to Kotzen, Jini also holds promise in areas like utility computing and dynamic networking, where Jini could be used to help add or remove servers from, say, a grid compute farm.

"The types of applications (using Jini) have expanded significantly," she said.

Kotzen declined to say whether Sun plans to incorporate Jini anywhere in its product line.

While Jini adoption may have been slow, developers have not abandoned the platform. Over the last year, approximately 100 commercial ISVs (independent software vendors) have been working with members of Jini's 150,000-strong developer community on the next major release of the Jini specification, code-named Davis. Available in beta form Thursday from Sun's Jini.org Web site, Davis is expected to form the basis of Sun's Jini Starter Kit 2.0., according to documents posted on that site.

On Thursday, Jini's non-commercial developers voted overwhelmingly in favor of approving Davis as a Jini Community Decision Process (JCDP) standard. Davis had earlier been approved by Jini's other JCDP stakeholders, its 100 commercial licensees, and the specification is now expected to become an official Jini standard.

Following this week's vote, there will be a two-week "settling" phase "to be sure everyone is aware that the proposals have passed," wrote Sun's Jini community liaison Jim Hurley in an e-mail sent to Jini developers Thursday.

Davis will be the second set of standards to move through Jini's nascent JCDP. On Wednesday, Sun announced that Jini's ServiceUI API (application program interface) was the first specification to be formally approved by the JCDP. The Service UI API lets the same Jini service interact with a variety of different user interfaces like voice input, pager buttons or computer keyboards.

While the Jini faithful may hold high hopes for the 2.0 release, others said it may arrive too late. Forrester Research Vice President Uttam Narsu, said that because Sun misstepped with its initial positioning and technical design of Jini, its credibility as a viable development platform is now in doubt.

"I'm not sure that at this point in time there is anything much they can do," he said. "There are a variety of projects within the Jini space that have been put forward to make it more palatable for enterprise developers and one by one they've failed."

In fact, Narsu said, Jini is beginning to resemble ESpeak, Hewlett-Packard's technology for connecting networked devices, which won praise as an influential technology but fell by the wayside when HP scrapped development of its middleware.

"If you look broadly at the two projects, you can learn some lessons for them. In both projects, there was too much binding to a particular implementation," he said, meaning that developers saw Jini as not suitable to heterogeneous platforms because if its requirement that developers pass Java binaries back and forth.

Sommers at Autospaces said he doesn't consider Jini's reliance on Java to be a flaw.

The Davis RMI model will help with Jini's interoperability story, Narsu said, but he remains skeptical. "Frankly speaking, (Jini has) had a couple of strikes against it. If you were Sun and you tried to talk to a partner and say, 'Hey I'd like to talk to you about Jini,' you'd almost immediately get people shrinking away," he said.

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