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Current trends in computing include increases in both distribution and wireless connectivity, leading to highly dynamic, complex environments on top of which applications must be built. The task of designing and ensuring the correctness of applications in these environments is similarly becoming more complex. The unified goal of much of the research in distributed wireless systems is to provide higher-level abstractions of complex low-level concepts to application programmers, easing the design and implementation of applications. A new and growing class of applications for wireless sensor networks require similar complexity encapsulation. However, sensor networks have some unique characteristics, including dynamic availability of data sources and application quality of service requirements, that are not common to other types of applications. These unique features, combined with the inherent distribution of sensors, and limited energy and bandwidth resources, dictate the need for network functionality and the individual sensors to be controlled to best serve the application requirements. In this article, we describe different types of sensor network applications and discuss existing techniques for managing these types of networks. We also overview a variety of related middleware and argue that no existing approach provides all the management tools required by sensor network applications. To meet this need, we have developed a new middleware called MiLAN. MiLAN allows applications to specify a policy for managing the network and sensors, but the actual implementation of this policy is effected within MiLAN. We describe MiLAN and show its effectiveness through the design of a sensor-based personal health monitor.