Apple’s Rendezvous for easy device hook ups

CIOL Bureau
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By Lucas van Grinsven

AMSTERDAM: Hooking up a printer to a personal computer has ruined many a weekend in the average household and it still causes grief, even after l,20 years of PC innovations that have made processors and computers much more powerful. Several initiatives have been launched to resolve the issue -- with varying degrees of success -- and Apple is now pushing a solution that aims to solve part of the problem when trying to get technology devices to work together.

Its technology, called Rendezvous, already comes pre-installed in the latest Apple gear and in high-end printers from Canon. The world's major printer makers, Hewlett-Packard, Epson, Lexmark and Epson have also embraced it. As long as the Rendezvous technology is embedded in a printer, it will automatically advertise its presence after being plugged into a network, after which it can be used.

"You'll never have to configure a network printer again," Apple's Chief Executive Steve Jobs said at a recent Apple product show in Paris. When using Rendezvous in an Apple test lab situation last week, printers and messaging buddies popped up and disappeared as I connected and disconnected devices on the fly.

Rendezvous, which is Apple's version of an open industry standard for zero configuration over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, is compelling enough for consumer electronics giant Philips from the Netherlands to start adding the protocol into its Hifi sets and televisions.

Songs stored on an Apple iPod portable music player could be played through a Philips stereo system, using a wireless connection, Philips Chief Executive Gerard Kleisterlee said in videotaped speech in Paris. Pictures stored on a PC or digital camera could be displayed on a television screen, he added. The first consumer electronics products will come out in 2004, a Philips spokesman in Amsterdam said.

Rendezvous can also be used for other network services, such as instant messaging or file sharing.

One of Apple's engineers behind Rendezvous, Stuart Cheshire, pointed out that Rendezvous is not just about "ease-of-use." It also stands to simplify the spaghetti-like mess of various cables in a household or office. Rather than having video, S-Video, component video, stereo audio, 5.1 Dolby, Toslink optical audio cables and the like, any uniform computer connection will do, either through a wire or over the air with wireless LAN or Bluetooth.

Despite minor differences, Rendezvous resembles Universal Plug and Play, the standard that is pushed by software giant Microsoft, both an Apple rival and partner. Philips believes the two are so close it will combine both in its products. "We support Universal Plug and Play and will thereby support Rendezvous," the spokesman said.

Will it make life easier?

But will life for every-day computer users at home really become any easier with Rendezvous or Universal Plug and Play? Both technologies solve the issue of making a connection and advertising their services, but many network devices still need special software if they want to use each other.

This so-called "driver" software is one of the reasons why operating systems such as Windows have million of lines of computer code -- every printer type has its own driver software program and the one you need is often lacking. "Once you are done with (detecting services), you are left back in the world of protocols," software engineer Todd Blume said at Tiger Island Software on the Internet discussion board of Sun Microsystems (

However, there is also software to solve this problem in the form of Jini, a Java program that allows machines to send the appropriate driver software to each other. The U.S. Army has begun to use Jini technology because it needed a technology to quickly add new and unfamiliar devices onto a network that could be partly blown to pieces, Sun said. When Jim Waldo, chief Jini software architect at Sun, heard about Rendezvous his reaction was that Apple's Rendezvous and Jini could benefit from each other.

Rendezvous will create a network between devices, and Jini will guarantee they can work together. "There will be an attempt to use the Highlander Principle (there can be only one...) to put Jini and Rendezvous into an either/or situation. Which would be too bad, since I think that the two really could complement each other nicely," he said in the discussion group. It is unclear whether the combination of both technologies will appear in real products any time soon.

© Reuters