Jini to work wonders

Sun Microsystems Inc. proudly coaxed Jini out of the bottle last month in hopes that its magic will help establish Java and distributed computing as the architecture of choice for both home and office.

Ed Zander, Sun’s chief executive officer, said Jini spells the end of desktop dominance. “Under this model, the PC will no longer be the primary access device,” he said.

And Bill Joy, Jini creator and chief scientist at Sun, called Jini the culmination of a vision he’s carried since he helped co-found the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun 20 years ago.

“For the last 20 years we’ve had PCs…[but] the world of the future we imagined is the world of personal networks,” he said.

Sun, along with surprise guest Steve Young, quarterback for the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, demonstrated the new Jini technology before 700 analysts and reporters in San Francisco. Jini, which contains a small amount of Java code, allows networked devices – everything from dishwashers to printers — to instantly communicate with each other, regardless of the underlying operating system or platform.

According to Sun, Jini will enable office workers in an increasingly mobile world to easily connect with office peripheral devices, provide more opportunities for developers to create new services, and open-up new business avenues for legions of device manufacturers.

Sun unveiled the new Jini logo and the 37 consumer electronics and software vendors which have agreed to manufacture Jini-enabled devices. The partners include printer manufacturers Seiko Epson Corp. and Xerox Corp., services management company Computer Associates International Inc., and networking companies Cisco Systems Inc. and Novell Inc.

Although IBM Corp., one of Sun’s most influential backers, did not attend the official launch, Sun reassured the audience that the company is a Jini partner.

And if the number of partnerships continues to grow at the pace Sun expects, then consumers can expect to see Jini devices in their homes by late 1999, and widespread proliferation of the technology both at home and at work by 2001, said Mark Tolliver, president of Sun’s newly created consumer and embedded division.

Tolliver also dismissed Microsoft Corp.’s Universal Plug-and-Play initiative – technology that lets people link their devices without having to go through a desktop — noting that Microsoft still depends on the PC and operating system architecture.

“Jini is a ‘pure level’ connection that is spontaneous…(that’s) a very different model than the central control command model Microsoft has,” he said.

Whether Jini lives up to Sun’s predictions or not, the company has made the first step toward a new computing model, one that according to Tracy Corbo, senior analyst with San Jose, Calif.-based Dataquest Inc., will fundamentally change the way people use computers.

“It’s an interesting idea,” she said. “This will drive technologies that will be in place 10 years from now. So even if Jini isn’t it…I think it shows a move toward convergence and a need for linking these devices.

“Whether Jini ends up being the solution, I don’t know. But it certainly will be pointed to as the first step in the convergence of business and home electronic devices.”

Jonathan Eunice, analyst and IT advisor with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., said Sun isn’t gearing Jini to the enterprise, where “complexity isn’t a killing issue, like it is on the consumer side.” Eunice is cautious when it comes to Jini, noting that Sun has a vested interest in constantly being the IT industry’s “thought leader.

“Computers everywhere, networks everywhere is an enormous shift, (but) it’s not the only shift — there are five or seven of them. And this is a 20 year shift, it’s not ‘in two years, everything is going to be this way.’ We’ve been working toward this for many years,” he said.

Also adopting a cautious tone is Yogesh Gupta, senior vice-president with the advanced technology division at Computer Associates in Islandia, N.Y. Gupta admits that linking peripheral devices in the enterprise is not of paramount concern to users of its management framework Unicenter TNG, which along with CA’s database management system, Jasmine, will be made Jini-enabled.

“I’ve yet to find a person that thinks attaching a printer (to the network), at least in the last year or so, is hard,” he said.

And despite what Sun may think, network security, whether at home or at the office, is always a priority, Gupta said. During the Jini launch, Sun’s president and chairman Scott McNealy dismissed questions about Jini’s security, calling the issue a “red herring.”

Still, Gupta said Jini will let Jasmine developers create multimedia applications that could even open up a whole new consumer market for CA.

Sun is inviting developers to download Jini from http://java.sun.com/products/jini. As part of its new Community Source License, the code is available for free for non-commercial use.