Sun Microsystems Inc.Palo Alto, Calif.

Jini Technology

With the potential of impacting anyone with access to electricity, Jini technology leverages the Internet and Java to bring us closer to a global nervous system of interactive intelligence. This new software-based computing paradigm allows for the mobile behavior of computer code and Java objects, which means hardware and software using Jini are network-ready and accessible as soon as connected. Computing becomes simple, easy, and powerful through spontaneous networking that dynamically establishes the communication, sharing, and exchange of services between any hardware or software on a network, says Jim Waldo, Jini's chief architect. Developers can connect into the ubiquitous network, just as telephones today connect into the ubiquitous dial tone -- and as simply, adds Bill Joy, vice president, R&D and Sun's cofounder. He says Jini's challenge is to end the frustration that people experience in getting computers and other devices to work together. Joy faults today's computer architectures from a design viewpoint. "They lead to needless complexity, breakdowns, and make interactions between different devices much, much too brittle. When we put a lot of devices together, we too often have to put one of them in charge and that becomes a single, critical point of failure." He contrasts that with Jini: "It is a much more distributed system where the pieces can work together and there is no single system that is necessarily the single point of failure for that whole setup. Breaking things down into simpler pieces means that they're more reliable. It is hard for things to be reliable if they're not simple," he asserts. Adds Waldo: "In a lot of ways what we're doing in Jini is a direct reaction to the growth in size of systems software over the last 10 years. Operating systems just got bigger and bigger with every increase in functionality. What we're trying to do [with Jini] is break apart the functionality -- to the minimum needed in a device or service. The technology lets things interact via very simple conventions." Connection is facilitated because Jini, by the use of the Java language, makes every network homogeneous. In the past, adding a new device involved complex installation procedures and updates to databases and directory listings. If connections were needed between devices, complex drivers had to be written and kept updated with every new version of the device. The technology will impact both consumer and industrial markets. In manufacturing companies, for example, current factory automation is structural -- changes or updates could mean that whole networks may have to be replaced or halted. With Jini, changes and updates are immediately integrated into the factory system. "In the Jini vision, the individual entities tell the others how to talk to them when needed," notes Waldo. "And so rather than a centralized [manufacturing] system that is built at one period of time by putting together all the various pieces, Jini provides a decentralized alternative. As pieces are added, they update those other parts of the system that are trying to talk to them." With Jini technology there is no need to stop any operations -- the new equipment can simply be hooked up, turned on, and immediately integrated into the factory system, he adds. The way people work also could be strongly impacted. For example, with Jini's spontaneous networking feature, joining a new network group would be as simple as plugging in. That would facilitate IT support for loose management hierarchies that change very rapidly as the needs of a company shift. Right now it is very hard for the IT infrastructure to mirror the rapid deployment of personnel from group to group, says Joy. At the consumer level, Jini network devices could include computers, smart cards, printers, disk drives, phones, alarm systems, heating and air conditioning systems, even automobile engines and dashboard computers. Joy firmly believes ubiquitous or pervasive computing is in our future. "That's the notion that microprocessors are getting so cheap that we're likely to have a 100 times as many embedded microprocessors doing useful things as we have PCs." As one example, he cites how microprocessors are proliferating in automobiles -- air bags, door locks, air conditioners, global positioning devices, radios, speakers, microphones, and tire-pressure sensors. He counts upward of a 100 microprocessors per vehicle. To fulfill Jini's potential in ubiquitous computing, Sun is partnering with a wide range of technology companies including Axis, Canon, Computer Associates Datek, Encanto, Epson, Ericsson, FedEx, Mitsubishi, Northwest Mortgage, Novell, ODI, Oki, Quantum, Salomon Brothers, Seagate, and Toshiba.

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