IBM shies away from Jini

Sun Microsystems' Jini may be out of the bottle, but winning market acceptance could be the real trick.

Jini is the first technology that IBM is not fully backing and while developers say Jini is as revolutionary as Java itself, IBM's lack of support is a big departure from the previous everyone-but-Microsoft alliance.

So far, that hasn't daunted Sun. The company has positioned Jini, released last month, as a software layer that permits devices to recognise each other and share services on network. But Sun already is laying the groundwork for broader uses.

Strategic Technology Resources, a Chicago-based integrator and Sun Authorised Java Centre, just completed a project with Alcatel USA using JavaSpaces, Sun's first service on top of Jini. Sun released JavaSpaces at its JavaONE developer conference last March and plans to offer it under a separate license from Jini.

STR and Alcatel built a three-tier architecture that hooks into the telco's intelligent network and allows it to very quickly deploy new services-such as Web-800-in Java. In the future, Alcatel servers will be directly available to cell phones, PDAs, set-top boxes and other devices.

"We began the project before we knew what Jini was, and when we saw the underlying code the entire picture made sense," says Larry Podmolik, STR's chief technology officer. "I would love to get involved with embedded systems using Jini. That has not historically been a market for us, but I think over time the current sharp line between embedded systems and PC/workstation/server computing will start to blur."

However, Sun's partners say Jini is such a departure that for the moment it creates two different ways of using Java -- via the enterprise Java/CORBA world that IBM pushed Sun to create, and via Jini, which relies on a federation of Java Virtual Machines to define the behaviour of a network and the devices on it.

ObjectSpace, which like IBM has a competitor to Sun's JavaSpaces, declined to attend the Jini launch because of the lack of focus on the enterprise. "We're in a better position now than ever," says cofounder David Norris. ObjectSpace has an investment from Novell and plans to integrate Jini and Java with CORBA, the Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture.

Podmolik says he also thinks Sun may be taking a risk by focusing Jini so heavily on devices, although he calls Jini "a brilliant piece of engineering. "Jini is so different from what we've got now that it leaves a lot of stuff behind," Podmolik acknowledges. "It's absolutely the right thing technically, but it's a much harder sell because it implies a fundamentally new computing infrastructure."

Sun itself is not saying exactly how it will adopt Jini. Dan Berg, the chief technology officer for Sun's U.S. reseller area, says Sun chose the device metaphor to represent Jini because it's easy to understand. "Jini is a way for computer chips and systems to quickly form an impromptu system with other systems, but these could just as well be other software systems," Berg says. "You could offer an ERP service through Jini where ERP could advertise that it provides certain services and others could register for them."

But IBM, meanwhile, has still not licensed Jini and will not support Jini in its VisualAge Java tools, a company spokeswoman says.