Sun Microsystems Inc. has officially launched its Jini networking technology at a lavish press event, accompanied by over 30 vendors demonstrating Jini-enabled products scheduled to ship later this year.
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.
Jini will be essentially invisible to users, and should also allow them to plug printers, personal computers and other appliances into a home network or the Internet and have those devices interoperate without having to worry about configuration, software drivers and the like.
Among the Jini products sheduled to be on display at the launch yesterday were a digital camera from Eastman Kodak Inc., a printer/copier/fax machine from Canon Inc., home theater products from Sony Corp., a storage device from Quantum Corp., a cellular phone from Motorola Inc., and even a dishwasher from Bosch-Siemens Hausgerate GmbH, Sun officials said.
"By using the power grid in your home as a network, Bosch wants to be able to monitor how your dishwasher is doing and see, for example, which parts are wearing out without coming into your home," said Richard Gabriel, whose title is distinguished engineer at Sun's Smallworks research and development laboratory in Aspen, Colorado, where Jini has been under development for the past five years.
While the Jini-enabled products aren't due 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 preempt interest in Microsoft Corp.'s Universal Plug & Play technology, which was announced earlier this month and promises similar capabilities to Sun's Jini.
Sun officials this morning said Universal Plug & Play is behind Jini in development terms, and criticized 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," Gabriel acknowledged today.
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, Gabriel said.
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.
"We want people to be really innovative and come up with completely new business models for offering Jini services," he said.
Sun was due to announce that Jini technology will be available as a shipping product from Sun'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.
Companies that want to build commercial Jini products will have two licensing options: they can pay 10 U.S. cents to Sun for every Jini-enabled device shipped, or pay $250,000 per year for any number of 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, which will also be unveiled today -- a genie lamp with a puff of smoke emerging from the spout, reminiscent of Sun's steaming coffee cup Java logo.
They will also demonstrate a prototype network management system designed to help telecommunications firms and network service providers to manage networks that contain millions of devices, including Jini-enabled appliances. The prototype is based on Sun's Solstice Enterprise Manager software.
Sun, in Mountain View, California, can be reached at http://www.sun.com/.