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Traditionally, operating systems have been designed with the assumption that a computer will have a processor, some memory, and a disk. When you boot a computer, the first thing it does is look for a disk. If it doesn't find a disk, it can't function as a computer. Increasingly, however, computers are appearing in a different guise: as embedded devices that have a processor, some memory, and a network connection -- but no disk. The first thing a cellphone does when you boot it up, for example, is look for the telephone network. If it doesn't find the network, it can't function as a cellphone. This trend in the hardware environment, from disk-centric to network-centric, will affect how we organize our software -- and that's where Jini comes in.
Jini is an attempt to rethink computer architecture, given the rising importance of the network and the proliferation of processors in devices that have no disk drive. These devices, which will come from many different vendors, will need to interact over a network. The network itself will be very dynamic -- devices and services will be added and removed regularly. Jini provides mechanisms to enable smooth adding, removal, and finding of devices and services on the network. In addition, Jini provides a programming model that makes it easier for programmers to get their devices talking to each other.
Building on top of Java, object serialization, and RMI, which enable objects to move around the network from virtual machine to virtual machine, Jini attempts to extend the benefits of object-oriented programming to the network. Instead of requiring device vendors to agree on the network protocols through which their devices can interact, Jini enables the devices to talk to each other through interfaces to objects.
Jini is a set of APIs and network protocols that can help you build and deploy distributed systems that are organized as federations of services. A service can be anything that sits on the network and is ready to perform a useful function. Hardware devices, software, communications channels -- even human users themselves -- can be services. A Jini-enabled disk drive, for example, could offer a "storage" service. A Jini-enabled printer could offer a "printing" service. A federation of services, then, is a set of services, currently available on the network, that a client (meaning a program, service, or user) can bring together to help it accomplish some goal.
To perform a task, a client enlists the help of services. For example, a client program might upload pictures from the image storage service in a digital camera, download the pictures to a persistent storage service offered by a disk drive, and send a page of thumbnail-sized versions of the images to the printing service of a color printer. In this example, the client program builds a distributed system consisting of itself, the image storage service, the persistent storage service, and the color-printing service. The client and services of this distributed system work together to perform the task: to offload and store images from a digital camera and print out a page of thumbnails.
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