Sun signs Sony, Philips to bring Jini into the home

Home networking alliance planned to score one over rival Microsoft offering

Ahead of next week's official launch of its Java-based Jini networking technology, Sun yesterday announced partnerships with Sony and Philips to bring the technology into the home networking arena. The agreement centres on establishing a development effort to allow Jini devices to communicate with HAVi, a Philips-devised technology which will allow hi-fi separates, VCRs, TVs and PCs to be connected throughout the home. Based on FireWire (aka IEEE 1394), HAVi essentially merges networking, hi-fi interconnects and SCART cables into a single cabling system. It provides the necessary software infrastructure for connected devises to identify themselves automatically on connection or power-up to other networked machines and communicate across the network, allowing consumers to build functioning networks simply by plugging devices into each other. Each device maintains a registry of the network resources available to it. So, say, your HAVi amplifier will know it's connected to a CD player, a VCR, TV and speakers, and can route data from source to output point accordingly. Each machine has a Device Control Module -- in IT we call them drivers -- which abstracts operating idiosyncrasies into a consistent interface the rest of the network can understand. All this, of course, is pretty much precisely what Jini does, so patching up their respective drivers, registries and messaging systems shouldn't overly tax each company's software guys. But the deal is really more strategic than developmental. Tying Jini into HAVi gives it a neat edge on Microsoft's competing Universal Plug and Play (UPP) thing, or at least that's what Sun is hoping. The only snag is that the deal doesn't preclude Microsoft from linking UPP to HAVi -- indeed, it already has access to it, thanks to a deal done to license HAVi-based technology from Sony. The difference is that UPP is essentially an attempt by Microsoft to put the PC at the heart of home entertainment, whereas Jini is a far less PC-centric. In turn, that makes it more attuned to the HAVi 'peer-to-peer' approach. Still, while the IT business is largely founded on the idea of competing technologies rather than co-operative ones, the consumer electronics world is, generally speaking, the opposite. That means the HAVi supporters, whose number includes Toshiba, Grundig, Matushita, Hitachi, Thomson Multimedia and Sharp, in addition to Philips and Sony, are unlikely to favour Jini over UPP or vice versa. Soon enough it will work with both, and Sun and Microsoft will be back to square one. ®

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