This is the year when distributed object technology hits the commercial mainstream, claimed Chris Stone, president of the Object Management Group standards body during his keynote address to the Object World East conference in Boston.
It had better be, warned John Rymer, analyst with research firm Giga Information Group during a panel session later in the day. At this, object industry experts weighed up the respective roles of the Internet, Java and Microsoft?s ActiveX on the future of object oriented software.
The landscape of the object oriented market has changed markedly over the eight years that Stone has been aggresssively evangelising the merits of the technology, first at Data General and later as founder of the OMG.
The early work of the group centred on rallying the rest of the industry around the core components of the OMG Object Management Architecture. The most visible success was the specification of the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba), used as the basis of most of the commerically available object request broker communications software.
But since the OMG was formed, other factors have kicked in to influence the market, most notable the Internet and Java. In addition, Microsoft, which has been a thorn in the OMG side by refusing to commit to its standards, has promoted its Distributed Object Computing Model and ActiveX as viable alternatives to Corba.
The start of the 1990s saw a series of wildly over-optimistic predictions of the potential size of the object industry. These have now been toned down in the face of market reality.
Steve Garone, analyst with IDC, estimated the 1996 Corba market as being worth $300 million. Only a third of that came from licence sales of Corba products with the remainder accounted for by training, consultancy, services and conference activity.
The next 12 months are unlikely to see much of a shift in the breakdown of distributed object revenues, but all the main speakers at Object World this week are convinced that they will be a turning point in the industry.
Stone kicked off the conference with an optimistic overview of the distributed object market, centring on the claim that "this is the year that distributed objects break out as commercially acceptable".
He was able to point to major end users such as America Reinsurance, the world?s largest reinsurance firm, as proof that enterprise distributed object architectures are being developed based on Corba.
Elsewhere at the show, ICL?s US operation backed up his claims with details of its five year, $2.4 million deal to implement its Dais object request broker at British Aerospace, a Corba implementation it claims is the largest in the world.
Stone positioned the Internet as another platform for application development, pointing out that the IIOP protocol used by Netscape, Oracle and Lotus has its origins in the OMG Corba work.
But a panel of analysts held later in the day to present an objective picture of the state of the object industry was more cautious. Giga?s Rymer caught the prevailing mood when he warned: "1997 is the critical year if distibuted objects - and Corba in particular - are going to cross the chasm."
To date, the take-up of distributed objects has been slow largely because of the complexity of the technology, he added. "It has to be made simpler," he cautioned. "There have to be more distributed object services, such as security, added. This has to happen this year if this stuff is to take the next step."
Melinda Carol Ballou, senior research analyst at the Meta Group, highlighted the continued threat to a Corba-based industry from Microsoft. There is, she argued, still a window of opportunity because the Microsoft technology is not ready for enterprise implementation, but it will be very soon.
Stone had modified his stance on the Microsoft camp for this year?s show, the entrance to which was dominated by a huge banner advert proclaiming the virtues of ActiveX. Previous Object Worlds had been rallying grounds for speakers, inclusing Stone, to take pot shots at Microsoft?s object strategy.
But this year, the message was "room for everyone". "I would get on a soap box where sometimes I?d beat on Microsoft and sometimes I wouldn?t," admitted Stone. "At the moment I happen not to be on a soapbox."
He predicted that the coming years would see organisations using Corba for back end systems and turning to Microsoft for the front end and desktops. Bridging the two worlds is a priority for the OMG, he said, adding that the latest specifications for such bridging technology arrived at the group last week.
"There is going to be a choice of distributed object solutions," he said. "This is not going to be won by Corba only, or DCOM or ActiveX or Opendoc."
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