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Rendezvous, AKA ZEROCONF

In an earlier entry, I wrote:

In the end, I suppose my prediction is that if the 802.11 software layer improves rapidly, then Bluetooth is doomed. If this doesn't happen, though, then Bluetooth has a good shot -- not because it's cheaper or consumes less power, but because it's easier to use among mixed devices. If anyone is working to universally solve the 802.11 high-level software issues, then I'd like to know about them.
Ask and ye shall receive.

An old friend, joe holt, wrote to let me know about something along these lines. joe has been at Apple for some years now. Back in the mid-1980s, we got to know each other within the San Diego bulletin board crowd. joe is one of the best programmers I've ever known. He could -- no exaggeration -- write 6502 assembler code from scratch about as fast as I could type, which is in the 40-60 words per minute range. He also has the ability to pull back and look at the big picture; his ideas about the future are always well-reasoned and thought-provoking. (Okay, there's the first person on my next "five people I'd like to see write a blog" list.)

Anyway, joe wrote to let me know about Rendezvous, announced by Apple this week as part of Jaguar, version 10.2 of OS X. Rendezvous is Apple-speak for ZEROCONF, which refers to both an IETF working group and a series of protocols:

The charter of the ZEROCONF Working Group is to enable Zero Configuration IP Networking. That means making it possible to take two laptop computers, and connect them with a crossover Ethernet cable, and have them communicate usefully using IP, without needing a man in a white lab coat to set it all up for you. We're not limiting the network to just two hosts, but we want to take that as the starting point.
Apple says it well on their Rendezvous page for consumers:
Rendezvous lets ordinary users create an instant network of computers and smart devices just by getting them connected to each other. The computers and devices take over from there, automatically broadcasting and discovering what services each is offering for the use of others. The network could be as simple as two AirPort-equipped PowerBook users sitting in a hotel meeting room miles from the nearest AirPort base station with some large files they need to share. Before Rendezvous, frustration. With Rendezvous, their computers would discover each other making the file sharing completely simple.
Apple also announced that Epson, HP, and Lexmark would be supporting Rendezvous in future printers.

The more I learn about Rendezvous/ZEROCONF, the more I think it's the most significant announcement Apple made this week, along the lines of their popularization of the 3.5-inch floppy disk, FireWire, and most recently WiFi. Apple has taken a promising new technology -- in this case, one with the IETF already behind it -- and promised to deliver it to their customers in a short time frame. They've also done a good job of rounding up initial third party support.

Rendezvous/ZEROCONF doesn't necessarily all the problems I enumerated. For example, once devices have discovered one another, they need protocols for communicating specific types of data, and to do so as simply as possible. If you're trying to build an 802.11-based wireless headset, you'll need not only an IP stack and discovery services, but voice encoding and transmission protocols as well... and all this needs to be fairly lightweight. Still, Rendezvous/ZEROCONF could be a big step forward.

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