Sun's dreaming of ‘Jini' - so what's all the fuss about?

Sun Microsystems engineers have been working quietly on a new Java technology called Jini since 1995.

Part of the original vision for Java, it was put on the back burner while Sun waited for Java to gain widespread acceptance.

As the Jini project revved up and more than 30 technology partners signed on, it became impossible to keep it under wraps. So Sun cofounder Bill Joy, who helped dream up Jini, leaked the news to the media earlier last month. It was promptly smothered in accolades and hyperbolic prose.

How does it work?

Joy: When you plug a new Jini-enabled device into a network, it broadcasts a message to any lookup service on the network saying, in effect, "Here I am. Is anyone else out there?" The lookup service registers the new machine, keeps a record of its attributes and sends a message back to the Jini device, letting it know where to reach the lookup service if it needs help. So when it comes time to print, for example, the device calls the lookup service, finds what it needs and sends the job to the appropriate machine. Jini actually consists of a very small piece of Java code that runs on your computer or device.

Why will Jini be the future of distributed computing?

Joy: Jini lets you dynamically move code, and not just data, from one machine to another. That means you can send a Java program to any other Jini machine and run it there, harnessing the power of any machine on your network to complete a task or run a program.

Why won't Jini be the future of distributed computing?

Joy: So far, Jini seems to offer little more than basic network services. Don't expect it to turn your household devices into supercomputers; it will take some ingenious engineering before your stereo will start dating your laptop. Jini can run on small handheld devices with little or no processing power, but these devices need to be network-enabled and need to be controlled by another Jini-enabled hardware or software piece by proxy.

When will it happen?

Joy: The first customer shipment is slated for the fourth quarter. Jini-enabled software could ship by the end of the year, and the first Jini-enabled devices could be in stores by next year.

What's the catch?

Joy: Security. Jini will use the same security and authentication measures as Java. Unfortunately, Java's security model has not been introduced yet.

Who's scared?

Microsoft. Without Jini, Java is just a language that can run on any platform. With it, Java becomes a networked system with many of the same capabilities as a network operating system, like Windows NT. Don't expect Microsoft to support Jini.

What's lost in the shuffle?

Lucent's Inferno, a lightweight OS for connecting devices; Microsoft's Millennium, a Windows distributed computing model; and Hewlett-Packard's JetSend, a protocol that lets peripheral devices talk.

What should you say when discussing Jini?

Joy: "For all its promise, Jini will take time and a quantum leap in thinking for it to change the networking model."

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