Sun Microsystems Jini project brought oohs and aahs when it was unveiled to the national media last month. Jini promises to revolutionise computing by letting any device plug into a network and make its services available to any other device.
But some of Sun's Java licensees are withholding judgement until they review Jini, raising questions about how the project will develop. IBM for one, has developed alternative technology, and is in the process of deciding what to do about it.
Sun introduced JavaSpaces, which relies on Jini for its underlying technology, at its JavaONE developers conference in March. At the same time, IBM posted information on its Web site on TSpaces, a project developed in IBM's Almaden Research Centre.
Both JavaSpaces and TSpaces are based on the Linda project developed at Yale University in the mid-1980s. Working separately, IBM and Sun have adapted Tuplespace, a portion of Linda, to solve communication problems in distributed computing. IBM and Sun have had discussions about Jini. IBM researcher Toby Lehman says it wouldn't take much for TSpaces to become "a superset" of the JavaSpaces server. However, a Sun spokeswoman says that Jini and JavaSpaces remain Sun's strategic direction.
TSpaces is still a research project, and IBM is exploring several options for developing it. Lehman maintains that TSpaces is well-suited for large enterprises. The code has been available on IBM's alphaWorks Web site since March.
IBM also has joint studies going with the University of California at Berkeley, New York University and Yale University. "We're concentrating on making all computing services from any computer on any platform available to any other computer on any other platform," he says.
IBM won't say if it is talking to partners about TSpaces. It also won't comment on the relationship between TSpaces and IBM's now-forming Pervasive Computing business unit, which will be closely coupled to IBM's Java work.Meanwhile, although Sun's Jini is still a specification, companies expect to deliver products based on it within a few months. Java start-up ObjectSpace in the US which has relationships with both Sun and IBM, says IBM could fragment the Java marketplace if it does not back Jini. "In the discussions we had with IBM, they were disappointed that Jini was such a closed architecture and so Java-centric, as opposed to being more open to CORBA and DCOM and other standards," says ObjectSpace President and CEO David Norris. "But TSpaces is not where anyone will spend their time or energy unless JavaSoft backs it."
Still, Lehman says TSpaces' database heritage makes it more powerful than Sun's JavaSpaces. "We want to be a persistent data store, so you can ask more sophisticated questions of TSpaces and do more things with the engine," Lehman says. IBM is considering adding XML support to TSpaces. Because IBM can send an XML document, or object, over the wire in its natural state, Lehman says, it can be stored in a hierarchical format and people could make sophisticated queries about its contents.
IBM also has developed a Java intermediary that lets 3Com's PalmPilot Pro communicate with TSpaces. The device can take advantage of printing, faxing and other network services, and can also have information pushed to it through a wireless cradle.