C|Net on the Jini Hype Machine

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From: Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 00:58:04 PDT

>But Jini is more than technology: It is an illustration of how Sun
>operates, and that history has not been free of problems.
>First, someone with an active imagination like Bill Joy or James
>Gosling comes up with a clever technology. Next, Sun figures out a
>way to use the idea to circumvent competitors instead of attack them
>head-on. Then Sun trumpets the idea as loudly as possible.
>Eventually, well after Sun has declared victory, the idea may catch

What is holding up Sun's much-hyped technology?
By Stephen Shankland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
March 15, 2000, 4:00 a.m. PT

The age of the Internet dishwasher was upon us.

That, at least, is what Sun Microsystems promised last year with the
introduction of its Jini software. The next-generation technology was
supposed to create a new world of network-connected
devices--videocameras, DVD players, lamps and coffee makers--that
would be "on the market within 1999."

Once connected, a Jini device automatically broadcasts what it can do
and how it works--a fundamental difference from the way networks
operate today. Devices can then link themselves and take advantage of
each other's abilities, bypassing the need for a person to inform all
the affected components. But the ambitious timetable for the
futuristic technology turned out to be more fiction than science.
Although companies are beginning to work Jini into their plans, no
major products have hit the market in the year since the software was

"The hype is way ahead of the market," International Data Corp.
analyst Kevin Hause said. "Sun is definitely moving in the right
direction with it, but it's going to be a long process."

The way Jini has been handled is a classic example of the
product-marketing cycles that drive much of today's high-tech
industry. To satisfy the relentless demands of competition and Wall
Street, companies often hype their products far before a market for
them has been created--and sometimes with little knowledge about how
their technology will ultimately be used, if at all.

Some analysts defend the early marketing blitzes, pointing to the
need to create a buzz that will inspire other companies to make plans
to adopt these technologies. Sun, in particular, has an incentive to
maintain industry confidence and momentum because its old nemesis
Microsoft and others are pushing aggressively ahead with competing

The risks are high. Jini has put Sun's reputation on the line as the
company strives to become as pervasive on the Internet as Microsoft
has been with the personal computer. And the initiative will test
what lessons Sun has learned in its epic battles with the Redmond
empire, from laboratory to courtroom.

The company's grand plan is to ride Jini and its companion Java
software from Sun's bastion in corporate servers to the wide-open
territory of networked electronics. Now, it must deliver.

The promise: A wired household

If it succeeds, Jini could earn Sun a place in a radically new
market, wow Wall Street with a new revenue stream, and make Sun a
name recognized by plumbers as well as system administrators. But
most important, it could give Sun the edge when selling servers for
Internet-everywhere jobs such as automatically calling General
Electric when an oven's heating element is about to expire or
disabling the back-door alarm from work to let in the oven repairman.

With Jini, devices announce themselves and what they can do when
networked together. For example, a digital camera can send images to
a printer or to a hard disk. Unlike current computing devices, a Jini
device broadcasts anelectronic instruction manual--its own
"driver"--describing how to use it.

Smart appliances, though expensive niche products at first, will be a
fertile field for software such as Jini, IDC analyst Bruce Stephen
predicted. "White goods" manufacturers Sunbeam, Maytag, Whirlpool,
Electrolux, Merloni, Electrodomestici, General Electric and Sharp all
are putting electronic brains into their appliances, he said.

Jini devices are a particularly good idea in Europe, where
environmental regulations and limited electricity supplies mean a
refrigerator might want to check with the washing machine to make
sure switching on won't blow a circuit breaker, according to
PersonalGenie, a company that plans to offer services that will take
advantage of such features.

"Yes, your refrigerator will talk to your coffee maker will talk to
your electric blanket will talk to your oven," Stephen said.
"Virtually everyone who is a name in the white goods industry is
getting behind this."

Sun charges manufacturers 10 cents per Jini device but expects the
real profit to come from sales of back-end computers that will be
needed to power the Internet services people use from their cell
phones, TVs or cars. For those that want to use Jini software modules
rather than sell Jini gadgets, Sun instead charges a fee of about
$250,000 a year.

MediaGate intends to use Jini in its upcoming Internet universal
messaging server that will let people use a single account to access
phones, mobile phones, fax machines or pagers. MirrorWorlds is using
Jini for its "LifeStore" hard disks that can be attached to any sort
of gadget and store any sort of file. ProSyst is developing software
to let Jini-outfitted medical monitors automatically summon a doctor
when necessary.

Epson, Xerox, Kodak and "most major printer manufacturers" are
working on a standard interface for Jini printers, Sun said. Japanese
cell phone giant NTT Docomo will put Jini on its i-Mode cellular
phones. And Gateway will ship Jini and other Sun software to Sun's
customers who need Windows PCs.

Perhaps the most significant ally is Palm Computing, which is
investigating using Jini on its popular handheld devices. "We like
the idea. The possibilities are pretty cool," said Peter Claassen,
Palm's business development manager. "We announced last year we were
part of the Jini Community."

Using a Jini-powered Palm Pilot, a person could print up a list of
contacts directly to a Jini printer without going through a PC or
knowing what type of printer it is. A person also could download some
photos from a friend's Jini digital camera, take them home, then
store them on a Jini hard disk.

In addition to the 25,000 individuals who have downloaded Jini
software under Sun's free evaluation license, dozens of companies
have signed commercial licenses in the past six months, said Curtis
Sasaki, director of Sun's consumer and embedded technologies group.

Many industry analysts say these are the reasons that Sun had no
choice but to trumpet Jini early, even though it ran the risk that it
wouldn't catch on like wildfire. "Sun had to get on the road maps of
all these technology companies early, early on," IDC's Hause said.

The reality: Bumps in the road map

While technologically sound, Jini is at a stage comparable to having
fax machines but no phone lines.

"If anything, Jini is ahead of its time. We don't have the
infrastructure in place yet...to really implement all this device
communications stuff," said Patricia Seybold Group analyst Anne
Thomas Manes. In particular, Jini is awaiting wireless networking
technology such as Bluetooth and some crucial software ingredients
from Sun itself.

Sun acknowledges that Jini has been held back by technologies like
Bluetooth and a standard way of sending requests to a Jini printer.
"It does take time to get everything aligned," Sasaki said.

Another sticking point: Gadgets don't have enough computing
horsepower. Jini needs Sun's Java software to run, but it's not easy
to squeeze Java into something smaller than a PC.

Unfortunately, Java for the small gadgets also doesn't have all the
features necessary to run Jini. Sun's KVM version of Java lacks
support for key Sun software called Remote Method Invocation (RMI).
And moving Java to gadgets isn't easy. Sun planned to release KVM for
the Palm in 1999, but it's still in beta.

Jini allows a way around these technical difficulties, though: More
powerful devices can act on behalf of simpler ones. To that end, Sun
has begun placing more emphasis on putting Jini on "gateway"
computing devices from companies such as Cisco or Ericsson that also
provide a high-speed conduit to the Internet.

Another way around the performance problem is to run Java
instructions directly on a microchip instead of in a miniature
computer that must first translate Java instructions. Though Sun's
effort at building such a chip faltered, companies such as Dallas
Semiconductor as well as start-ups Ajile Systems and Zucotto all are
building chips to bring Java to small devices.

But Jini is more than technology: It is an illustration of how Sun
operates, and that history has not been free of problems.

First, someone with an active imagination like Bill Joy or James
Gosling comes up with a clever technology. Next, Sun figures out a
way to use the idea to circumvent competitors instead of attack them
head-on. Then Sun trumpets the idea as loudly as possible.
Eventually, well after Sun has declared victory, the idea may catch

Take Java, for example--software from Sun that theoretically lets a
program written once be recycled for use on numerous devices without
having to be rewritten each time. "Java is great, but it's taken them
five years to get to where we are today. Jini is going to be similar
as a building-block technology," Hause said.

And if Java is anything to judge by, things could get prickly with
business partners as Jini grows beyond prototypes and pilot projects.
With Jini, Sun will be anxious to avoid the acrimony with companies
such as Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and IBM that has tarnished Java's
history. The Jini partnerships likely will go more smoothly because
the business partners aren't as likely to be direct competitors, as
was the case with Java.

Java also has changed direction several times since its initiation in
1991 as a way to get electronic devices such as video game consoles
and stereos to talk to each other. Java, inspired by the consumer
market, now is perhaps most popular in back-end servers running
e-commerce applications and is just getting started in sub-PC devices.

Jini is undergoing similar, though less drastic, changes.

The future: What Sun must do to rise

Regardless of the course Sun takes with Jini, there's no time to lose.

New generations of Internet-connected cell phones, handheld devices,
TV sets and cars are on the way. Also looming are competing ways of
networking gadgets: Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), IBM's
T-Spaces or the Salutation software backed by Canon, Xerox,
Matsushita, Hewlett-Packard and others.

UPnP has a distribution channel that's the envy of the industry: the
Microsoft Windows CD. UPnP will ship with Windows Millennium Edition,
the sequel to Windows 98 due in the second half of the year, and UPnP
devices will begin arriving toward the end of the year, spokesman
Shawn Stanford said. T-Spaces is shipping in two IBM products and
soon will ship in 15 products from other companies.

Microsoft argues that one UPnP advantage is that it uses standard
Internet communications methods instead of requiring use of
Sun-controlled software. Sun counters that UPnP, for all its
purported independence from PCs, is still designed to further a
Microsoft-centric world.

Technologically, UPnP is months behind Jini, said Alvin Chin, a
technology evaluator for Canadian consultancy CGI, but Sun can't be
complacent. "They can't wait for Microsoft to come and catch up," he

Some manufacturers are hedging bets. Siemens demonstrated a Jini
dishwasher but has joined the UPnP steering committee. And Echelon, a
company working on technology to connect devices in the home, at work
or on factory floors, supports Jini and UPnP.

Analysts expect Jini devices to begin arriving this year. Sun
acknowledges that the gadgets didn't arrive as fast as hoped but
argues that it's been successful as a technology to connect software
modules together.

"The devices side is happening, but it's taking a little bit longer,"
Sasaki said. "On the services side, it's faster than we ever

This two-pronged strategy is embodied in PersonalGenie, a 22-person
start-up based in Tucson, Ariz., that's using Jini to help computers
and electronics automatically respond to a person's preferences.

By June, PersonalGenie will launch a software-only service that uses
Jini to assemble custom Web portals based on an abstract "digital
portrait" of a person's interests and personality. Later, when Jini
devices become available, the company will offer services to let
homes automatically cater to a person's preferences, such as

"We're trying to reduce the number of interactions the consumer has
to have with the system by increasing the intelligence of the
system," chief executive Sylvia Tidwell Scheuring said.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking.

"It's clearly not lived up to the expectations that Sun had set.
According to their initial plans, we should be floating in Jini
devices by now," Gartner Group analyst David Smith said. "They do
need to combat the perception that Jini is missing in action."

Technology timeline
Sun has tried to keep Jini in the limelight at key events.

Jini launch, 1/99
Demonstration of printer, hard disk and digital cameras connected to a laptop

Japan Electronics Show, 4/99
Demo of the server-side use of Jini with BizTone's enterprise
resource management software accessed over the Internet from the
BizTone server in Malaysia

JavaOne, 6/99
* Demo of Jini to control a light switch
* Demo of PalmPilots used to control Lego tanks
* Demo of a Jini-enabled Epson printer

LonWorld, 10/99
Demo of a bridge between Jini and Echelon's LonWorks method of
controlling lights and other household devices

Telecom, 10/99
* Demo of Jini to control lights and a CD player with a mobile phone
* Demo of a sub-PC electronic book to fetch and print email

JavaBusiness, 12/99
Demo of Jini devices and software services to read email and print to
a Jini printer

Consumer Electronics Show 2000, 1/00
Demo of Jini to link a dishwasher, bar code reader and WebPad with radio-
frequency networking to a special computer acting as a gateway to the Internet

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