Since 1992, IBM has been telling the world about its OpenDoc technology.
Last week, it told PC Week, OpenDoc on the OS/2 platform was no more.
IBM has effectively stymied the evolution of OpenDoc by diverting its programming effort towards Sun's Java and JavaBeans component technology.
Nick Davis, OS/2 product marketing manager at IBM UK, said there were now just 30 developers at IBM working on the enhancement of OpenDoc. The rest have been redeployed onto projects relating to JavaBeans.
When Apple and IBM announced OpenDoc in 1992, the computer industry felt the two companies had come up with a real alternative to Microsoft's Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) compound document and component technology.
OpenDoc was touted as the technology that would "shape tomorrow's software".
OpenDoc claimed to offer users a way to create compound documents easily; it was available on multiple hardware platforms and offered a consistent user interface for embedding and manipulating different media into documents.
When the OpenDoc initiative was announced it proposed other features such as in-place editing, irregular shaped objects and drag-and-drop of objects which, at the time, were unavailable on Microsoft's competing OLE technology.
Since 1991, IBM and Apple have been toying with object and component technology for operating systems. They set up a company called Taligent whose focus was to develop an object-oriented operating system. Taligent never produced an actual operating system. But last year, IBM bought out the other Taligent investors, inheriting the research and development work undertaken by the company into object technology.
IBM's move towards JavaBeans was announced in April last year at Sun's JavaOne developer's conference. It announced a project, codenamed Arabica, which comprised a collection of tools and technologies based on Java.
Aimed at the corporate developer, Arabica provided platform-independent components, rapid assembly tools and interoperability with platform-specific component architectures. Among the Arabica harvest is technology which allows JavaBeans components to be used in OpenDoc containers.
About the same time, IBM announced another project, called San Francisco, an application framework for linking business objects together. IBM had been working on this secretly for several years. Originally, the plan was that third-party developers would create their business objects in the C++ programming language. But when Java came along, IBM chose it as the language to build business objects for the San Francisco project.
With the expertise it has gained from Taligent, IBM contributed staff to help JavaBeans get off the ground. Some of the work produced by the Taligent developers include national language support in JavaBeans. IBM developers responsible for OS/2's SOM (System Object Model) component architecture and DSOM (Distributed SOM) also worked with Sun on JavaBeans.
"We gave our best object people from Taligent, IBM and Lotus to help design JavaBeans," said Simon Phipps, programme manager at IBM's centre for Java technology.
The difference between OpenDoc and OLE was that OpenDoc was very much positioned as a container for objects, while OLE was seen confusingly as both a container of components and a component inits own right. Only in 1996 did Microsoft clarify the situation by renaming the component constituent of OLE, as OCX. After that OLE referred purely to the compound document framework.
Scott Hebner, manager for applications development marketing for IBM's software group, said OpenDoc was originally designed to be a desktop optimised component architecture, primarily targeted at C/C++ developers, although other SOM-compliant languages could be used. The aim of OpenDoc, he explained, was to allow developers to build sophisticated, data-intensive components that could be ported easily across multiple desktop operating system environments.
"Since the advent of OpenDoc, the landscape has shifted from a desktop focus to a focus on developing network-optimised solutions. OpenDoc was not optimised for networked computing, but rather desktop optimised computing," said Hebner. "IBM has shifted its focus to solutions optimised for network computing, and thus is focusing on JavaBeans instead of OpenDoc."
Hebner claimed that desktop applications optimised for C++ were ideal for OpenDoc. But in the network computing world, C++ has been supplanted by Java. JavaBeans has been optimised for network computing, not desktop solutions. "If you are developing networked optimised solutions in Java, then JavaBeans is your solution," he added.
IBM is working to evolve the OpenDoc technology and incorporate it into Java and JavaBeans. It plans to adapt OpenDoc desktop containers (compound documents) to be first-class supporters of JavaBeans. "If you need to build sophisticated compound documents on the desktop," said Hebner, "you can use OpenDoc to do it and they will host and integrate JavaBeans." Among the technologies it is developing is one that will enable developers to build C++-based desktop containers that can host and integrate both networked JavaBeans and ActiveX controls.
But OpenDoc is more than component technology. It is a complete compound document framework. Hebner said IBM will be developing a similar compound document framework this year, based on JavaBeans. He explained that, as with OpenDoc, it will support drag-and-drop and irregular shaped objects.
IBM also plans to build utilities and tools that will enhance the JavaBeans environment. This is likely to include improved support for component documents, integrating JavaBeans, controlling JavaBeans and integrating JavaBeans in the enterprise. "We will continue to work with JavaSoft to enhance Java-Beans," said Hebner.
Commenting on IBM's decision to shift focus from OpenDoc to Java-Beans, Laurent Lachal, an analyst at Ovum, said: "While OpenDoc is very good technology, IBM had no mindshare in terms of marketing."
Lachal said Ithe slow pace at which IBM developed Windows versions of OpenDoc was a contributing factor in the failure of the technology to gain wider acceptance. "For a long, long time, OpenDoc was only available on OS/2 and Apple MacOS. Only recently has it become available on Windows."
Lachal thinks IBM will disappear behind JavaBeans. "It's an obvious thing to do because Sun doesn't have the time to develop a credible component architecture itself." Lachal explained that Sun had borrowed a lot of technology from third parties such as Borland. and believes some OpenDoc technology will be recycled in JavaBeans. "Part of the team involved in OpenDoc at IBM will be redeployed on JavaBeans projects."
On a final note Hebner stressed: "IBM continues to develop new versions and enhancements to OpenDoc. We are in no way decommitting to OpenDoc." For developers who require a formal cross-platform component model, or need to build data-intensive desktop compound document solutions or need to integrated networked JavaBeans or ActiveX components, OpenDoc is eloquent, said Hebner.
He said IBM plans to ship the OpenDoc libraries as part of its VisualAge for C++ product and will be coming out with new versions of OpenDoc later this year optimised for better Java/JavaBeans support.
"Don't conclude from our focus on network computing that we are abandoning desktop developers. We aren't. We will continue to provide C/C++ tools (such as OpenDoc) for developers that desire them," Hebner said.
Glossary ot terms
SOM and CORBA infrastructure Provided a common infrastructure defining objects regardless of programming language.
OpenDoc can be thought of as an extension to SOM that allows SOM objects to automatically and seamless integrate.
Taligent's technologies were designed to provide developers with robust, high innovative and productive class libraries and frameworks making developers more productive.
The Taligent technology is being used to enhance the VisualAge family of tools by providing object oriented class libraries for developers.
JavaBeans, JavaSoft's component technology for Java, was adopted by IBM as its component model for networked applications.
A JavaBeans project resulting in technologies in VisualAge for Java and the ability for OpenDoc to integrate JavaBeans.
A set of general business frameworks for common business applications (general ledger, etc) that was built with Java.
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