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Gene Kan & Mike Clary on Sun's Infrasearch Buy
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Kan: There are really as many different kinds of searching as there are different kinds of information out there. And so in specific applications it's going to make a lot of sense to pursue application-specific searching techniques and part of JXTA is a really open platform. That's one of the core ideas of the project, and its ability to adopt to every third-party solution out there is really a central idea.

Are there pieces of Infrasearch that you'll bring down to the infrastructure layer?

Clary: I think it might be too early to say. We haven't really done the mind meld yet, in terms of the technology and the pieces of the technology. I do fundamentally believe that what Gene has is something that really should live and breathe in the context of the network service, that either applications or end-users get direct access to. There may be some networking stuff, but it's too early to tell.

So my understanding of JXTA was that it was totally focused on the infrastructure layer, and with the acquisition it seems like you're also interested in providing some services that may or may not rely on that infrastructure layer. Is that right?

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Clary: Well, I think it will rely on the infrastructure layer. You know, Gene built some things underneath in order to satisfy what he had to do from an infrastructure standpoint, and so we intend to bring the Infrasearch open-search technology on top of JXTA and release it in that manner, as well. So it's not a case that these are two disparate efforts. I think these are pretty well lined up.

Are you concerned that the peer-to-peer community will think that Sun is trying to sort of buy up the P2P space?

Clary: No, I look at it a little bit differently. We're not trying to lock out anybody else, or as Gene was saying, it's an open platform, so any other searching mechanism can go on top of it. What we're really trying to do is catalyze this market so that people have some facilities or services so they can build compelling applications. So it's not a case that we're trying to lock other people out or slow the progress down. We'd just like to catalyze it and bring that level of coherence forward so people can do those interesting applications. The first problem everybody's going to be facing is searching; we'd like to bring a coherent solution to market so people can go off and build those applications that may bring back proprietary value for them. That's just our motivation. There's an awful lot of activity going on in that space. I think Gene knows better than I do, but I think there's a lot of things that are going on that no one could ever get their arms around or lock up or buy up the entire set. It's kind of hard to believe.

What other areas beside searching seem like important things to help be a catalyst for?

Clary: I think that's about where we're going to stop for the time being. We're going to have a hard enough time integrating this stuff and getting it to market and everything else. I think as far as we can see right now is we think that uniform infrastructure is important, followed by a searching mechanism. I think we're going to hold right about there for the time being.

We just put up a new piece by Clay Shirky called "Interoperability, Not Standards." What's your take on the P2P working group's movements toward a standards body?

Clary: I think Gene was touching on this. What we'd really like to do is promote a mechanism or approach that is not a standards-body approach. I think, if anything, the way or the manner we're approaching this right now is to say, "Let's get some technology out there. Let's see if we can do it on an open-source basis so that we can enlist the widest possible audience for influencing what this platform can be."

I think the day that a single organization comes out and unilaterally declares that "Here's the platform and this is what you need to build to" is over, and I think the notion that "standards first, applications second" is quickly coming to a close as well.

I think we need to let the market run for a while, and that's really our approach that we're going to take here. Let's throw some interesting services out there and let's let the market determine which ones are going to succeed over time. So I don't really hold out a lot of faith in this notion that either a big huge .NET specification and implementation is going to be the way to go, or a sanctions standard body declaring that this is the way to go in this new space. I think it's way too early. So we're going to approach this from a different way, and I think that's reflected in our license and our approach to the open-source community in general.

So services and applications first, standards later.

Kan: Yeah, really. The pace of change is so rapid on peer-to-peer, it's a book that's still being written. Well, O'Reilly published one ... but as a technology area, it's in a constant state of change, and to drive that process through a standards body now doesn't really make sense. Standards really should formalize practice, and the practices are still being formulated.

So I take it you won't be taking part in the peer-to-peer working group in the near future.

Clary: I think we'll keep an eye on what's going on, but I think if you look closely at it with the submissions that are in there, it's a tall stack of technology that they're proposing as standards that everybody adopt. I think that's why we're trying to keep our technology very thin, very small, but bring back some value for higher level applications, and I think similar to Gene's technology we're offering the fundamental facility, not an integrated, tightly integrated stack of technology of, "Here's the only APIs that you can use."

Kan: Right. I think the difference really between the Sun view and the Intel working group view is that many participants in the Intel working group feel that it's necessary to drive the development of peer-to-peer through standards whereas the idea at Sun is to drive the technology through example first.

Richard Koman is a freelancer writer and editor based in Sonoma County, California. He works on SiliconValleyWatcher, ZDNet blogs, and is a regular contributor to the O'Reilly Network.