You're at work and you realize you left the coffee maker on. You don't have to drive home to turn it off? You can take care of that over the Internet with Microsoft's new, unified home networking standard.

Microsoft yesterday announced that it has partnered with General Electric and a number of other companies on the new standard, dubbed Simple Control Protocol or SCP.

Unveiled at the Home Automation Show and Conference in Chicago, SCP is meant to increase interoperability with the current crop of home networking technologies through compatibility with Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) architecture, as well as devices based on Internet Protocol (IP), Microsoft says in a written statement.

SCP also interacts with non-IP-capable devices such as refrigerators and coffee pots.

Home automation, the linking of all appliances within one household, allows computer users to control networked devices through their PCs, either at home or over the Internet. Such capabilities would allow for the automatic resetting of clocks after power outages and other useful applications, according to Shelley Olhava, an analyst with IDC.

UPnP, Microsoft's previous home networking standard, has been criticized for being too PC-focused. SCP may be a move to address the networking of non-computer devices, Olhava says. She also notes that Sun Microsystems' Jini, one of UPnP's major competitors, already includes these appliances.

UPnP and SCP are not the only standards in this crowded market, however. Home PlugnPlay, backed by such companies as IBM, Panasonic, and Honeywell, as well as Sun's Jini and Sony's Home Audio Video interoperability are also vying for dominance.

However, it is not yet clear which standard is most prevalent, Olhava says. In fact, she adds, more than one of them may prosper, thus forcing the need for compatibility.

Either way, Olhava doesn't expect to see many networked homes in the near future, instead saying that it will most likely be at least five years until a large percentage of homes are equipped.