The relevance of Jini

Jini is networking software created by Sun Microsystems as an extension of Java, the company's cross-platform programming language. It will be available in the second half of next year. Jini's goal is to enable the creation of simpler, more flexible networks. It will enable devices to immediately start working after being plugged in directly to a network. Once the devices are connected, Jini will provide a way for machines, applications or devices to automatically "discover" and share resources called "services". The ability to download and move Java code or objects over a network is central to Jini's architecture. It requires very little memory - about 40KB of Java code - which will let it run in devices with very low memory, such as printers, personal digital assistants and cellular phones. IDG's Maryfran Johnson recently spoke with Bill Joy, inventor of Jini and vice president of research at Sun Microsystems, about the relevance of this new, object-oriented technologyIDG: What's the simplest, quickest way to explain Jini to a businessperson?

Joy: It's "plug 'n' work". Devices can plug in and work immediately. A huge complaint with computers today is their complexity. Jini provides a way of having a range of devices on a company network providing services that are easy to use.

Is the Jini technology primarily for consumer devices, or is it relevant to Fortune 1000 businesses?

It's widely recognised that most new devices in the next 10 years are going to be personal communicators, Internet phones and embedded devices. People in corporations have these devices too, and they will need to be managed and work together.

How important is having a robust, widely accessible wireless network in Jini's future?

We believe wireless will happen, but we designed Jini to work with devices people have today, and especially with devices that are coming, with the network interfaces built in.

When will Jini products start reaching the market?

Our goal is to have a variety of Jini products out toward the end of 1999, embedded in appliances. But you can certainly run Jini services on existing Java-based products now. More than 30 companies have already licensed the Jini source code, but I don't think we really know who's developing what. We're not trying to be a referee.

When will we see the first large-scale deployments of Jini?

That will take at least another year. For example, a hotel could make a decision late in 1999, if it was an early mover, to deploy Jini devices such as printers on its network. Any early adopter of handheld devices in vehicles would be [a likely Jini adopter].

How do Java and Jini relate?

Java is a programming language that's about writing portable software. Jini is about making networks of devices and services that work together. It's about connecting things easily with Java objects.

For example, Discovery is the "Hello, I'm here" piece of Jini - the identification process by which a new machine or device joining the network becomes a part of a Jini "federation" or network group and advertises its services to other users. When a Jini-enabled device plugs into the network, it drops a 512 byte Discovery packet.