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Language of the impossibleIn virtually every field from manufacturing to financial services, telecommunications, education, retailing, energy and health care, new information technology (IT) solutions are emerging that will extend the limits of what is possible. The newest Java software promises to revolutionise the way we conduct our lives. Ayman George reports from a Paris IT fair
More than 6,000 senior executives, software developers and journalists from around the world, including Egypt, convened in Paris to see first-hand how strategic, real world Java technology solutions are helping some enterprises gain a powerful advantage in today's fast changing business environment.
Edward J. Zander
President and Chief Operatin Officer
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Vice President, World Wide Sales
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Corporate Executive Officer
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Director, Science Office
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Over 150 firms exhibited at the Java fair which was promoted as the largest exhibition of Java solutions to be held in Paris, and the largest European event of its kind on such information technology. The solutions fair spread out over 10,000 square metres of exhibition space and featured a Sun Enterprise Showcase. Java software is produced by Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Frank Pinto, vice-president of computer systems worldwide sales for Sun Microsystems, who opened a symposium at the fair, said one of the highlights of the event was a new software called i-planet which creates for the first time a virtual workspace by allowing users access to their entire enterprise, including applications, calendars, files and e-mail from any Java technology-enabled browser anywhere. This innovative software solution helps companies establish enterprise portals, giving authorised users secure access to corporate Intranets and Extranets available from any Java technology-enabled browser as though they are working from an in-office desktop computer. The software will also be part of the portfolio of e-commerce offerings that other companies competing in today's Net economy provide.
Another new product, "The HotSpot" performance engine shown at the fair, is the fastest software to date in Java technology. It breaks new ground in software design and raises the bar by providing 100 per cent higher performance than the previous Java platform. This new feature maintains uncompromising compatibility while dramatically boosting speed. It is now the obvious choice for deploying full scale Java applications in the enterprise.
The Java HotSpot performance engine improves performance by using advanced optimisation techniques.
THE NEXT CHALLENGE: In recent years, the demand for consumer and business-related electronic devices has surged. Now we face the next challenge: bringing individual, self-contained devices together into dynamic, transparent, and simply connected networks to offer more services and resources to the end-user. The value of such devices to the consumer increases as they can interconnect and inter-operate with each other, said Bill Joy, chief scientist and corporate executive officer for Sun Microsystems.
Several technology development efforts are underway to answer this call for more inter-connectivity and an easier way to build, manage, and use the services of digital networks. One of the most exciting of these developments is Jini technology which was featured at the symposium. Built on Java technology, it is designed to enable users to simply connect any number of digital devices, and to access those valuable services provided by rich, dynamic communities of computer systems such as personal digital assistants, televisions, digital cameras, fax machines, cell phones, even smart card readers.
Jini technology is just one of the components of an emerging plug in-and-participate world. The software plug-in will revolutionise the way management services are delivered by adding new services dynamically and spontaneously without requiring modification to existing platforms. The technology will also be universal, allowing almost any device from a toaster to a server or switch to plug-in and configure itself to the network.
It is no secret that the world is networking faster than ever. The problem is that in today's world, most of these electronic devices do not interconnect, or at least do not do so easily. What is needed then is a simple way to plug in all types of electronic devices -- from personal digital assistants (PDAs) to intelligent disk drives, digital home entertainment systems, and even home appliances -- in a networked environment as easily as we plug in our telephones or turn on a light switch. This will give us instant access to an array of services broader than we ever imagined. This is what Jini technology is all about.
Jini technology can be integrated into new versions of the common consumer and office devices used on a daily basis by millions of people around the world. The types of products and applications shown at the fair are examples of those currently being researched and developed by companies licensing the Jini technology. Consumers can expect to see similar devices and services in the international marketplace this year.
JINI AT HOME: Digital devices using Jini technology can be used throughout the home, giving consumers a whole new way to work and play. Jini technology gives users a more convenient option for accessing the services in their neighbourhood and the world at large. With Jini software, a laptop or home computer can access services offered by neighbourhood retailers. Rather than drive to the local photocopy store, a person can simply access their services application from his home computer which has joined the local Jini technology network, place an order for a certain number of copies and give an address for delivery.
But wait, there's more. The computer language required to implement Jini technology is so small, that all types of home appliances can use it, from lamps and coffee makers to dishwashers and water heaters. According to speakers at the fair, adding complex technologies to your home is as easy as plugging in a toaster.
Using Jini technology in the home opens up new possibilities of convenience: appliances that maintain themselves through remote diagnostics and repair procedures; water heaters that adjust temperature and water pressure to compensate for someone turning on the dishwasher while you're taking a shower. These products and services are not impossible; many are under development today.
In addition, home audio and video equipment is rapidly moving to the digital world, giving rise to new technologies for connecting diverse components into an integrated home A/V environment. Every audio-and video-phile dreams of needing only one control point for the stereo, VCR, television, and CD player. HAVI, a specification for home audio/video inter-operability, allows consumers to build a home environment to coordinate the control of several devices, simplify operations, and deliver content wherever it needs to go.
Jini, called after Aladdin's Jini, does even more than this. It mends TV sets and dishwashers by remote control.
It orders the refrigerator to buy whatever is missing from it, and orders the coffee-machine to prepare the morning coffee.
Besides, the Jini architecture is designed to enable the creation of dynamic, adaptive, impromptu communities of devices, sharing vital services without the need for prior knowledge of anything about the current network environment. Radio-networked devices present the opportunity to create location-aware services which can detect when new devices move into their proximity and automatically deliver useful services.
For instance, imagine arriving at an airport, suitcase in one hand, a palm-sized PDA in the other. The airport has a radio-based proximity-specific communications network which your PDA, with the aid of Jini technology and other networking software, spontaneously discovers and joins. You don't even need to plug anything in. You are instantly notified of your flight's departure gate, and your name is added to the list of checked-in passengers -- no waiting in line.
Your arrival triggers another network service, the airline's frequent-flyer administration system. You've just accumulated enough miles to get a first-class upgrade. The network changes your seat assignment, and you proceed to the airport lounge to await departure time. The radio-based network will notify you when your flight is ready to begin boarding. Meanwhile, you check your e-mail and find that your co-workers just sent you an updated sales presentation. Using the Jini technology network, you can find a local print service that will take the file from your e-mail and print it out in the correct format.
From his hotel room in Paris, a businessman was able to bring together the word processor in his laptop, a printer down the hall in the hotel, and a fax machine somewhere else in the building, and get them to work together to accomplish his goals. He didn't have to know what kind of printer and fax machine he was using. He didn't have to install any drivers. He simply selected what he needed from an online list and used them. Afterwards, he unplugged from the network, and Jini technology cleaned up any leftover data or software residing on his laptop.
HOW DOES JINI TECHNOLOGY DO IT? Jini technology enables the building and deployment of distributed systems that are organised as "federations of services". (A federation is a set of services that can work together to perform a task. A service, in turn, is an entity that sits on the network ready to perform some kind of useful function. A service can be anything -- a hardware device, a piece of software, a communications channel, or even a human user.)
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The Jini technology-enabled printers in the businessman's hotel, for example, offered "printing services". Once a service becomes part of a federation, it can be used by client programmes, other services, or users. In the businessman's case, his Jini technology-enabled word processor acted as a client of the hotel's federation of services and took advantage of one of its printing services.
FINDING LOOK-UP SERVICES VIA DISCOVERY: The same businessman's word processor was able to locate the nearby printers through a process called 'discovery'. Discovery enables the user's application, or any other Jini technology client, to locate nearby look-up services. Look-up services are the central organising mechanism for systems based on Jini technology. When devices are plugged into the network, they register themselves with one or more look-up services. When clients want to locate a service to assist with some task, they consult a look-up service.
In the businessman's scenario, discovery worked like this: As soon as he started his Jini technology-enabled word processor, it sent a short series of "presence announcements" out onto the network. Each presence announcement basically says "I am here" to any look-up service that happens to be present.
ONE-MINUTE PHOTO: Jini technology makes it easier for individual devices to simply connect into impromptu communities that allow users access to both local and remote services. Devices using Jini technology can cooperate with less need for human intervention, with no need to install hardware-specific drivers, and in ways far beyond the limits of traditional networking.
Picture this: you've just taken a photo you can't wait to show your friends. Instead of looking for the nearest one-hour photo development store, or waiting until you're home to download the files to your laptop, you simply plug into a publicly available digital photo kiosk. Your camera, using Jini technology, spontaneously connects to the kiosk and its network services with your own secure identity, so you can instantly print a colour photo or share the pictures with your friends via your distributed disk service.