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Jini aims to prove it can grant wishes

Today we'll find out if Jini can make wishes come true.
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

Jini, a Sun Microsystems Inc. technology introduced in July, is supposed to let you control your computer, kitchen appliances and sprinkler system from remote locations. It was introduced in July as the latest effort to create a platform that will bridge consumer and computer technologies.

Basically, Jini is a piece of Java software code that ties the Java Virtual Machines in different devices together, allowing them to communicate with each other. For example, someone leaving work during a snowstorm could use a cell phone to call his or her house, telling it to raise the temperature on the thermostat.

Through Jini, Sun hopes to promote the concept of "spontaneous networking" -- that is, when a device such as a printer or camera plugs into a network hub, it instantly announces its capabilities to the other devices on the network. In a recent example, Sun executives plugged a camera into the network, which then "told" the printer that it could take pictures and send them over to print.

Today will reveal how much progress Jini has made, both technically and in winning over converts. On the technical side, Sun plans to demonstrate uses for Jini through mock-ups of a factory floor and home. It will also introduce a prototype of one of the first implementations of Jini.

According to Sun, the new system will be designed to control any network of any size, including communications networks that use satellite, PCS, telecommunications and optical technology. For example, a telecom company might use the technology to control millions of pagers or cellular phones, determining which ones are down or in use. Devices tapping into the network must contain some Java code, but they also can run other systems in addition to Java. Sun officials say that because Jini has been designed with networked devices in mind, it lacks the cumbersome code of operating systems such as Windows NT.

Its predecessors, however, such as Microsoft's At Work, have failed, and even if Jini works, it faces a tough market. While Jini doesn't necessarily threaten Microsoft's desktop OS, it does take aim at a market Microsoft is eyeing. Jini is jumping into the unclaimed space for networked devices, in which Microsoft and Cisco Systems are both interested. Just last week, Microsoft unveiled its Universal Plug and Play initiative, a move that could make it difficult for Sun to grab as much market share as ithad hoped.

It's a wide-open space, though. Analysts estimate that chips in desktop computers account for only 2 percent of the microprocessor market -- leaving the other 98 percent up for grabs. But that wide-openness is a problem. The market may again shun such technology, or the technology itself may not work. Analysts said the companies will have to come up with a common way of getting the devices to understand each other if they want the technology to take off. "These things can probably be done -- to some extent -- today," said Greg Blatnick, an analyst at Zona Research Inc. "The question is, can they be done in any broadly accepted, standardised way? That's the battle that needs to be fought."

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