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15 Tech Companies Link Up

Fifteen top technology companies agreed to create a common technical standard to easily link a future generation of gadgets and appliances to each other and the Internet.

The agreement announced Monday could hasten the day when people commonly use their home phones to access the Internet, or have refrigerators and other appliances remotely checked by manufacturers for defects.

The participants in the group, called the Open Service Gateway Specification, include International Business Machines Corp., Motorola Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Lucent Technologies and Oracle Systems Corp.

The new standard, based on Sun's Java universal programming language, is intended to help speed the development of networked consumer devices, which today follow a hodgepodge of software standards.

By creating devices to a single specification, the manufacturers and software developers hope to make linking digital gizmos to computer networks as easy as plugging a telephone into a wall.

"Each one of these applications had its own industry and working group and standard," said Eric Brown, an industry analyst with Forrester Research, based in Boston. "It's becoming clear there's an opportunity to connect everything to everything."

The other members of the group are Alcatel, Cable & Wireless, Electricite de France, Enron Communications, Network Computer Inc., Nortel Networks, Philips Electronics, Sybase and Toshiba.

One noticeable no-show was Microsoft Corp., the largest maker of computer software which is pushing its dominant Windows as the operating system for future Internet gizmos. Microsoft's absence could hamper the widespread acceptance of a new standard from the group.

Written By David E. Kalish, AP Business Writer