Industry players join Plug and Play alliance

In a boost to the deployment of its forthcoming Universal Plug and Play technology, Microsoft last week said it will spearhead a committee of industry heavyweights to develop Internet-based standards for new devices that will interoperate with the technology.

The committee reflects a cross-section of companies in the computer, consumer electronics and home automation fields. The members include Echelon, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, IBM, Intel, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Mitsubishi Electronics America, Panja, Philips Electronics, Siemens AG, Sony and Thomson Multimedia SA.

The formation of the committee will establish principles for the Universal Plug and Play Forum that was set up in June, said Greg Sullivan, product manager in Microsoft's Windows consumer division.

"These companies are industry leaders who will be the driving force behind the development of Universal Plug and Play," Sullivan said. "The committee will put structure around the technology agenda. They will help determine how we build networking capability into these devices."

Universal Play and Play, scheduled for release with the Windows Millennium operating system in nine months to one year, is software that will enable devices to connect across home and corporate networks.

In one example illustrating the committee's plans, Philips, Sony and Thomson Multimedia will collaborate with Microsoft to develop Universal Plug and Play specifications for audiovisual device connections for home networks, Microsoft said in a statement issued last week. This group will work to connect networks to Home Audio/Visual interoperability (HAVi) level-one devices and plug and play using open Internet-based standards, Microsoft said.

In the case of committee member Compaq, the collaboration will help the vendor with future product development, said a company spokesman. "Everything is becoming more network-centric," said spokesman Ernie Hood. "More and more clients want access to it, and more and more devices will hook up to it."

The distinguished roster of participants should help Microsoft deploy Universal Plug and Play at a time when other companies, including Sun Microsystems, are working on their own plug and play technology, said one analyst.

"This is still a baby step, but it's good news for everybody interested in connectivity," said Mike Paxton, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group, based in Massachusetts. "It's important that Microsoft is getting the consensus of participants from some of the big consumer electronics companies like Sony."

Sun has developed its own Java-based technology called Jini, which also promises to let different electronics devices communicate across networks. "Microsoft, with its announcement, is showing it has a little more momentum with the participants it has included," said Paxton, who has worked with both companies. "But neither one of them has done anything yet."

Sun could not be reached despite several attempts for comment.

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