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Microsoft touts PnP system for PCs and appliances

But this one doesn't look like the big push into the appliance market

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Microsoft yesterday announced its latest bid to extend Windows out of the PC market - Universal Plug and Play. Unveiling the plan in a Consumer Electronics Show keynote senior VP Craig Mundie pitched UPnP as addressing the blurring of distinctions between appliances and computing devices, but although this could in theory pitch it against Java and Jini, in practice it seems the company is taking a more conservative approach, at least initially. "As appliances become more intelligent and the distinction between appliances and computing devices blurs, a key part of their value to consumers will come from their ability to communicate with other intelligent devices," said Mundie. But in describing the operation of UPnP, the company keeps it simple, suggesting it could be used "to install and configure… intelligent consumer appliances and devices on a home or small-business network." It could also be used to make it easier to share resources on a network in business or the home, or for two PCs in a home to share a single high speed Internet connection. So really this sounds like it could turn out just to be a fairly modest iteration of PnP, enhancing some of the things you're starting to be able to do with computers already (i.e., all of the above), and maybe - or maybe not - being a possible Jini competitor some way down the line. The partners Microsoft has announced for the system don't contradict this view significantly: AMD, ATI Technology, Axis, Cisco, Compaq, Conexant, Dell, Diamond Multimedia, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Intellon, Kodak, Lexmark, Lucent, Micron, National Semiconductor, NEC, Proxim, Quantum, Samsung, Sharewave, 3Com, Texas Instruments and Toshiba. These are largely the kinds of partners you'd expect for a classic Microsoft initiative that was going to cover PCs, peripherals, chips and networking. The presence of Proxim makes it clear UPnP is going to cover wireless networking, and may have a lot in common with HomeRF (quite a few of the supporters are HomeRF members). But there's nobody big in the consumer electronics industry there, so although phones may get involved (Lucent), it's not going to address one of the big potential markets immediately. What UPnP actually is is as yet somewhat sketchy. Mundie says: "Because UPnP is built on existing standards, it will be relatively easy for vendors to implement, and easy for consumers to take advantage of." But as Microsoft is presenting it as a development of PnP, we can be sure where those existing standards are coming from - Microsoft. ®

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