Imagine a world in which your smart alarm clock calculates your wake-up time by visiting a traffic report Web site to determine how long it will take you to get to work.
This is the kind of world that HP Labs is working to create. Working under the CoolTown banner, the idea is to create a world in which people, places and things all have a Web page. When you enter a room in this world, a beacon will beam the rooms Web page to your mobile computing device of choice – be it a cell phone or lap top. Once on the Web page for the room, you can then access all of the Web enabled devices, such as a printer, in the room.
Or you could walk up to a bus stop with Global Positioning Software and find out exactly when the next bus is due to arrive.
Hewlett-Packard is not the first company to envision a world in which devices are connected, which makes it important to develop open standards so that devices from different companies can talk to each other. To keep its technology open, HP decided to use its embedded ChaiServer to connect objects to the Web.
“How do you make your architecture ubiquitous so that anyone can use it? The good thing about the Web is that it’s already ubiquitous. Almost any computer on the planet at this point can speak Web protocols,” said HP Labs business development manager Gene Becker in Palo Alto, Calif. “Using the Web as the underlying foundation is very powerful. HP has traditionally been a company oriented towards open standards, and the Web is perhaps the most open standard of all.”
ChaiServer, which comes from the Hindi word for tea, is HP’s answer to Java and CoolTown is it’s response to Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Jini. Jini is an infrastructure in which different devices can talk to each other through Java technology.
For his part, analyst James Governor of Illuminata in Nashua, N.H., believes that HP’s CoolTown has the upper hand because its use of the Web makes it truly open technology.
“One of the things about the approach that HP is taking is it’s very pragmatic. Java is actually pretty dogmatic. Sun has this very clear vision of the world which says that anything Java is good, and anything not Java is not good,” Governor said. “(With sun) it’s: ‘It’s open standards, as long as it’s our open standards, as long as we’ve defined a lot of specifications.'”
But Sun insists that Jini is open to everyone.
“Jini is publicly available. The licencing for the technology is freely available for anyone on the ‘net. You can download the source code for it. As far as interoperability of devices, that really comes down to standards bodies sitting down and deciding this is how the devices are going to communicate,” said David Wadsworth, a Java evangelist at Sun in Markham.
Governor believes that HP has another advantage in that they understand small things. Companies like Microsoft Corp. try to cram as much as possible into operating systems for small devices, such as its Windows CE, he said.
“Part of this new world will be about specific tools for specific tasks. And therefore this idea of one-size-fits-all is very dangerous thinking. It doesn’t play into the new world. HP is not following that one-size-fits-all,” Governor said. “[Chai] is savoured for its rich and complex variety. It’s not like, here is black coffee; there are a lot of different subtle flavours.”
But no matter how well put together, a world in which everything has a Web address and is connected to everything else raises concerns about privacy.
HP said it’s working to address those issues under its e-services initiative. “[Pervasive computing] raises the importance of privacy-oriented technology, as well as social policies. I think it really is up to the technologists that are designing the systems to build in mechanisms for securing the communication at all levels so that information isn’t just freely available,” Becker said.
But Sun has a different take.
“Privacy is kind of a nebulous issue right now. There’s a lot of electronic surveillance that exists today that really isn’t illegal. Jini, as a technology, provides for services to communicate and freedom of movement for individuals,” Wadsworth said.