Four leading Internet companies are to collaborate on setting standards for network computing, in an effort to make the integration of software across different platforms appear transparent.
Last week, IBM, Netscape, Oracle and Sun shared a platform in New York to announce the plan to make their respective object technologies work together. Notably absent from the alliance is Microsoft, which is pushing its own ActiveX component technology as a de facto standard.
The IBM, Netscape, Oracle and Sun plan builds on CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) and IIOP (Inter-ORB Protocol), technologies which act as a glue to integrate software components from different companies.
Andy Bailey, product marketing manager at Oracle, believes the alliance will accelerate the CORBA standards process. "Between the four of us, we will make sure our products interoperate," he said.
Bailey also believes the alliance reinforces the NCA (Network Computing Architecture) which Oracle announced last September. NCA is the company's framework for building network-centric applications from objects or so-called "cartridges".
Paul Bellchambers, northern European product marketing manager for developer products at Sun, said IIOP was critical for interoperability between the four companies' respective object technologies. "(IIOP) breaks down the barrier and provides messaging between different platforms," he explained.
He added that it would be possible to have an object deployed on a Solaris server and accessed from another environment, such as Apple's NeXTstep.
SunSoft's own object technology includes a Java-based object request broker called Joe, and a suite called Neo which comprises an ORB for Solaris, a Solstice systems management tool and the Internet Workshop development tool.
The four companies have already implemented CORBA-compliant object technology.
In theory, this means their respective objects should already work together.
But according to Robin Bloor, chief executive of industry researcher Bloor Research, the products are not strictly compatible. "Developers still need to do a bit of engineering to glue these things together," he said.
The alliance was welcome news for CORBA developers, he added, as it means "IBM, Netscape, Oracle and Sun have agreed not to diverge".
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