Sun fires P2P shot

As it kicks off its newest technology initiative, Sun Microsystems is training gunfire on one of its oldest enemies: Microsoft.

As it kicks off its newest technology initiative, Sun Microsystems is training gunfire on one of its oldest enemies: Microsoft.

Sun this week expects to launch Jxta, an open source project to develop infrastructure software for peer-to-peer applications. What does Sun hope to accomplish with Jxta? Perhaps nothing more than to establish a beachhead against Microsoft in the emerging - and, so far, mostly hype-driven - area of P2P, a computing model in which users' computers exchange data directly.

Through Jxta - short for "juxtapose" - Sun hopes to provide certain elements it believes are essential to P2P networking, such as communication protocols, dynamic group directories, management and security. Last month, Sun acquired a hot P2P start-up, InfraSearch, whose distributed search technology will be incorporated into the Jxta project.

But analysts said Sun's P2P thrust faces serious obstacles. "The difficulty Sun will have is that the folks who want to do peer-to-peer are all in the PC space - and Sun has always been anti-PC," said Rob Enderle, research fellow at Giga Information Group.

Sun executives were unavailable to comment on Jxta last week, a spokesman said. But when Bill Joy, Sun's chief scientist, first announced Jxta two months ago at an industry conference, he drew a sharp contrast between Sun's plans and Microsoft's .Net initiative, claiming Jxta would be simpler, more open and more secure.

"We're not trying to turn this into something as infinitely complex as .Net," Joy said when announcing Jxta. "We'd also like an open source community, because the one that emerges will have that shape."

Joy said that, unlike some of Microsoft's products , Jxta will have a built-in security model from the outset. "Security wasn't part of [Microsoft's] model," he said. "In the short term, you can put stuff out that is usable with minimal security. But long term, we need to think that through fully."

Asked to respond to Joy's comments, David Stutz, technical program manager in Microsoft's technical strategy group, said security has been a central concern of .Net. He added: "Why should I expect that Bill Joy's latest science fair experiment will be any more relevant than Jini, his last?"

Sun's Jxta project also will likely butt heads with the other half of "Wintel." Intel last summer established the Peer-to-Peer Working Group, which purports to be an open industry forum for hashing out P2P standards.

Jxta will be an object-oriented language compatible with Java, Sun's proprietary programming language, and is expected to use such standards as eXtensible Markup Language. Some pieces of the Jxta code will become part of Sun's Open Net Environment, a software suite for building Web-based applications positioned against Microsoft .Net.