Sun's plan needs buy-in

Sun Microsystems is on the trail of technology that will make spontaneous networks out of a tangle of computers, operating systems and peripherals.

But Sun's plan isn't going to fly without the support of a wide variety of equipment makers. And some users, intrigued by the concept, aren't going to hold their breath until the OEMs come on board.

"I'd sure like to see that work since I have a lot of other things to do besides configure software," said Teresa Light, quality engineering manager at Xerox in the US. "In theory, it sounds good, but you need a lot of companies in the market to come on board to make it work. If they don't, this isn't going anywhere."

Last week, Sun announced its newest venture into the world of Java-based software. The California-based company is touting its Jini software, now in beta, as a key to reducing administrative costs and dramatically changing the way people use their network.

Jini was designed to bypass the usual device-to-device connections in the corporate network. Sun hopes it will enable users to connect devices to the network without any configuration or integration with the operating system. A user should be able to plug in a scanner and have it be available immediately and spontaneously.

Mike Clary, Jini product manager at Sun, explained that spontaneous networking is supposed to work because Jini, a series of Java class libraries that sit on Java virtual machines, melds any other virtual machines on the network so they connect and communicate seamlessly and automatically.

Sun plans to license its Jini software code to peripheral and appliance vendors next quarter. Those vendors would then Jini-enable their products, possibly by year's end. Without the vendors buying in to the premise, there will be nothing for corporate information systems managers to use.

"Do I think OEMs will be interested in this? Oh, absolutely," said Van Baker, an analyst at Dataquest. "This would be a good opportunity for peripheral vendors. They'll be interested."

Sun said it already has 30 companies evaluating the software, which went into beta testing two weeks ago. Although Clary declined to spell out the company's plans, he said he expects Sun to sell products such as storage devices and servers embedded with Jini.

For example, telecommunications company Ericsson plans to embed Jini technology in its cellular phones so they can communicate more easily with other devices, such as computers.

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