Sun dreams of Jini 2.0

Sun Microsystems Inc. is readying a major upgrade to its Jini networking technology for release at its JavaOne developer conference being held in San Francisco in June, sources close to the company said.

The Jini Starter Kit 2.0 is expected to include a brand new security model that will allow servers and devices running Jini to determine whether code downloaded from elsewhere in a network is trustworthy. Also expected is a new implementation of Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI), called Jini Extensible Remote Invocation (JERI), which should help Jini programs to better interoperate with other, non-Jini applications, according to sources familiar with Sun’s plans.

Starter Kit 2.0 is also expected to include new utility classes, new versions of Jini’s discovery protocols, and a new service runner framework, the sources said.

When Jini was first released in 1999, Sun positioned it as a way to enable a futuristic plug-and-play world where a variety of networked devices – everything from toasters to printers – would be able to automatically discover and communicate with each other. Sun’s vision of a Jini-enabled living room failed to materialize, in part because Internet-enabled devices were slow to take off, and the technology has failed to achieve the broad level of industry support Sun had hoped for, observers said.

“I think that the first reason Jini did not gain acceptance as much as it could or should have, is that the technology was so far ahead of the infrastructure,” said Aaron Dagan, president and co-founder of Calgary-based PsiNaptic Inc. PsiNaptic built its network access product JMatos on Jini.

Cell phones and other mobile devices at a level to be used with Jini were just not available when the tool debuted, Dagan said. They are only becoming available now, he added. Sun originally said a large part of Jini would be used for mobile and embedded devices.

“I think the reason for the slow adoption of Jini has more to do with how it was marketed than the technology itself,” said Jini developer Frank Sommers, whose company, Autospaces LLC, has used Jini to automate the management of an automotive inventory system for car dealers.

Dagan said Sun was unwise in terms of the push and resources it needed to assign to Jini originally. “I don’t think that Sun knew how to swallow what it had developed. They hadn’t paid real attention to that space.”

J2ME has given them insight that will help Sun market the product this time around, Dagan said. “It is good to see them pushing at an enterprise level. It will increase the visibility of Jini. Jini really shines in the mobile environment, wherein the nature of the network is unpredictable.”

Because of its early market positioning, Sommers said, Jini is not supported by as many enterprise-level products and tools as it could be. “The best support that someone could come up with would be an application server that would be based on Jini,” he said.

Jennifer Kotzen, Jini senior product marketing manager, said that while Sun has not integrated Jini into any of its products, it still holds promise as a means of administering network nodes that may not easily be reachable, things like cell phones or computer sensor equipment on the ocean floor. And while she said Jini’s Internet-enabled device story remained “exciting,” she added that it was “definitely not” the only place the networking software would be used.

While Jini adoption may have been slow, developers have not abandoned the platform. Over the last year, approximately 100 commercial independent software vendors (ISVs) have been working with members of Jini’s 150,000-strong developer community on the next major release of the Jini specification, code-named Davis. Available in beta form from Sun’s Web site, Davis is expected to form the basis of Sun’s Jini Starter Kit 2.0., according to documents posted on that site.

Earlier this month, Jini’s non-commercial developers voted overwhelmingly in favour of approving Davis as a Jini Community Decision Process (JCDP) standard. Davis had earlier been approved by Jini’s other JCDP stakeholders, its 100 commercial licensees, and the specification is now expected to become an official Jini standard.

Davis will be the second set of standards to move through Jini’s nascent JCDP. Also this month, Sun announced that Jini’s ServiceUI application program interface (API) was the first specification to be formally approved by the JCDP.

While the Jini faithful may hold high hopes for the 2.0 release, others say it may arrive too late. Forrester Research Inc. vice-president Uttam Narsu said that because Sun misstepped with its initial positioning and technical design of Jini, its credibility as a viable development platform is now in doubt.

“I’m not sure that at this point in time there is anything much they can do,” he said. “There are a variety of projects within the Jini space that have been put forward to make it more palatable for enterprise developers and one by one they’ve failed.”

In fact, Narsu said, Jini is beginning to resemble ESpeak, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s technology for connecting networked devices, which won praise as an influential technology but fell by the wayside when HP scrapped development of its middleware.

– with files from Victoria Berry