- Sun Microsystems happily got caught with its hands in a rival's cookie jar this week when the company joined the Microsoft-led Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) Forum.
Some observers see UPnP as a rival to a technology being developed by Sun called Jini. Both technologies, which are still being developed, allow devices like printers and scanners to be connected easily to networks, and then to electronically "announce their presence" on the network so that users can tap into their services.
Sun's name quietly appeared Monday on the list of of participating members on the UPnP Web site. Palo Alto, California-based Sun now looks to have a foot in both of the next-generation technology camps.
Greg Sullivan, lead product manger at Microsoft, said Sun's membership in the UPnP Forum lends support to the organisation's efforts and does not pose a threat.
"I think this is great for the UPnP Forum," he said. "It demonstrates the momentum behind the project."
Sullivan stressed that UPnP focuses on open communication protocols, an open computing language and the removal of licensing fees for the technology. He said the open nature of the project makes Sun's addition just another step toward advancing the effort and delivering devices sooner.
Over 260 companies have joined the forum, and Sullivan said some of the vendors may start showcasing UPnP-compatible devices by 2001.
"Many of the companies involved compete with each other," he said. "There is a friendly level of competition among them to say, Hey, we are going to ship the next device."
Ross Rubin, vice president and chief researcher at Jupiter Research, said he found Sun's involvement in UPnP to be an interesting move.
"It is somewhat surprising to me," he said. "Companies very often have different reasons for doing these kinds of things."
In this case, Rubin said Microsoft probably wants to find ways to drive the still immature technology. Without wide industry support and the continuing work on a standards-based system, users simply will not see these devices of the future arrive for some time.
Curtis Sasaki, director of product marketing for Sun's consumer technologies group, said that Sun will still concentrate on its Jini technology and will use its place in UPnP to take a gander at what the competition is up to.
"We kind of view this as another area that we have to get more information about," he said. "It is not that we endorse it."
Sun, like most of the UPnP members, cannot attend meetings related to the marketing or business strategies of UPnP devices. The company can, however, give its input on the development of the standards and see the status of product releases.
Microsoft included some UPnP software in its recently unveiled Windows Me consumer version of its operating system. Sullivan championed this release, but said the UPnP forum will not be reliant on Microsoft's code.
"UPnP is independent of Windows," he said. "It does not rely on Windows to work. But, will we make it work with Windows? You bet."
Sasaki said that Sun will not lag behind UPnP's efforts with Jini releases coming soon on the horizon. He added that Jini technology is currently being used by some health care management systems and airline reservation platforms and, like UPnP, is open-sourced. He also said devices might arrive ahead of the competition's expectations.
"I think there will be devices sooner than they think," he said.