Sun Microsystems officially launched its new Jini technology here on Monday, pitching it as an easy-to-use, vital platform for connecting together appliances over home networks and the Internet.
Jini is designed to allow a whole range of electronics devices -- from handheld computers and cellular phones to VCRs and dishwashers -- to "talk" to each other in a network and share information and resources regardless of their underlying operating system or hardware, Sun officials said.
"Jini is about simplicity and about the age of network services," said Ed Zander, Sun's chief operating officer, in San Francisco on Monday. "To give anyone, any time, anywhere, from any device the capability to get a 'Web tone' as reliably and as easily as we get a dial tone. That's what Jini is all about."
Jini will be essentially invisible to users, and should also allow them to easily plug printers, personal computers and other appliances into any type of network without having to know anything about device drivers or system compatibility, Zander said.
Sun announced that 37 hardware and software vendors have agreed to license the Jini source code. They include consumer electronics heavyweights like Sony and Philips Consumer Electronics, office equipment makers such as Xerox and Canon, and computing firms like Novell and IBM.
Sun also said that the finished version of the Jini source code is available on the company's Web site at http://java.sun.com/products/jini/. The software is free for developers to download and use for non-commercial, internal purposes, while commercial users will have to pay a fee, Sun officials said.
In several demonstrations here involving digital cameras, PDAs (personal digital assistants), a home theatre system and even a dishwasher, Sun officials showed how they think Jini-enabled products can make life a whole lot simpler for consumers and professionals trying to access services over the Internet.
While the products aren't expected to ship until the end of this year, Sun hopes to shore up support and interest in its technology now in order to create the type of industry momentum that will be necessary if its ambitious project is to be successful. In particular, Sun will try to pre-empt interest in Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play technology, which was announced earlier this month and promises similar capabilities to Sun's Jini.
Sun officials on Monday said Universal Plug and Play is behind Jini in development terms, and criticised it for being "PC-centric" and thus tied to the Microsoft operating system. Microsoft has countered that for Jini to work, thousands of applications will have to be rewritten in Java and Jini code.
"Of course, it would help if the whole world was written in Java," said Richard Gabriel, engineer at Sun's Smallworks research and development laboratory in Aspen, Colorado.
"Jini is different from the PC because there's no central control, no monopolist pulling the strings," Bill Joy, chief Jini architect, Sun cofounder and company vice president, said in a thinly veiled jab at Microsoft.
According to Sun's expectations, the first Jini devices to appear will be for the small office and consumer markets, like printers, scanners, handheld computers and VCRs, Gabriel said. If things go to plan, users should be able to buy products by early next year that allow them to set their VCRs using a cellular phone on the way home from work, for example, he added.
Next, Sun hopes Jini will create a market for new Internet-based services that use Jini. For example, a company could rent out storage space on large servers where customers can upload video and other large data files from their PCs. Eventually, the company hopes services and products for enterprise markets will emerge, Gabriel said.
Analysts at the Jini launch event today were divided over the technology's likely impact on markets and manufacturers.
"Getting consumer electronics manufacturers to put this in their products is no easy play," said JP Morgenthal, president and director of research at IT advisory company NC.Focus in Hewlett, New Jersey. Electronics manufacturers already have the IEEE 1394 high-speed interface standard and the HAVI (Home Audio/Video Interoperability) specification to help their products interoperate, and Sun will need to show them a compelling reason to build Jini into their products, Morgenthal said.
Because the Jini code is freely available, software developers who work for large companies are more likely to make use of Jini to build applications for the enterprise, such as a backup storage system for remote workers, Morgenthal said.
By contrast, Jean Bozman, a research manager with International Data Corp (IDC), said that Sun has created existing relationships with electronics manufacturers through Java that they will be able to capitalise on with Jini.
In addition, Bozman said, early adopters can benefit from buying a few Jini-enabled products for use over a home or local area network even before the technology gains broad support. "Even given just the products you have on show here today, you can make Jini into something useful," she said.
Companies that want to build commercial Jini products have two options for how they license the Jini code: they can pay 10 US cents to Sun for every Jini-enabled device shipped, or pay $250,000 per year for any number of Jini-enabled devices shipped in a single product family, said Samir Mitra, director of marketing and business development for the Jini project.
Sun requires that all Jini products carry the Jini logo -- a genie lamp with a puff of smoke emerging from the spout, reminiscent of Sun's steaming coffee cup Java logo. The company will also issue compatibility test suites to ensure products conform to Sun's specifications.
Other companies that announced they have licensed Jini to offer products and services include Computer Associates International, Bosch-Siemens Hausgerate, Creative Design Solutions, Echelon, Encanto Networks, Epson, Novell, Phoenix Technologies, Quantum, Sharp, Xerox, BullSoft, a division of Bull SA, and Axis Communications.