A Java/Corba axis is the only force powerful enough to put an end to Microsoft's territorial ambitions in the object oriented software industry, according to keynote speakers at the final Object World trade show in San Francisco.
John Landry, technology consultant to Lotus Development, set the tone in his opening address on day one of the conference when he compared Microsoft to the Klingon empire in Star Trek. On the side of the heroic Starfleet is an alliance made up of Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Netscape and IBM.
'Java is the best hope for a free world,'claimed Landry. 'Java is a wonderful component object model that is CORBA-based, is resusable and is a wonderful distribution and deployment strategy. Java is everywhere. IBM, Oracle, Nertscape, Sun, Microsoft, Borland, Symantec and a billion others are working on Java.'
But not everyone is working to the same plan, he added. 'The line from Microsoft will be that Microsoft Java runs everywhere, but it runs best on Windows,'he warned. 'Microsoft is trying to couple Java to Windows very tightly and has hooks into the operating system. It's an interesting strategy, but it's not good enough...I don't care how much money [Bill Gates] has, he can't buy everything.' Landry's comments were echoed by Bill Coleman, CEO of BEA Systems, who warned in his keynote address on Thursday that there had to be unity among CORBA vendors or Microsoft would exploit any divisions. '?f we let CORBA fragement, we will have a Unix versus NT battle on our hands and Microsoft will win,?he predicted. ?We cannot afford to do that.?
CORBA is the common object request broker architecture, a specification for object development and communication drawn up through the combined efforts of the supplier and end user members of the Object Management Group (OMG). It has spawned a number of object request broker products - software to handle messaging between objects - but has also met with opposition from Microsoft which has its own rival Active/X and DCOM object standards.
Earlier this year four companies - IBM, Oracle, Netscape and Sun Microsystems - set up a thinly discguised anti-Microsoft alliance by endorsing CORBA as a backbone of several of their products, such as Oracle's Network Computing Architecture and Netscape's Open Network Environment.
But Microsoft has a number of advantages over the 'gang of four'. Because it controls DCOM development as a proprietary technology, there are no issues of varying implementations of the standard, whereas CORBA can be implemented in slightly different ways depending on which vendor is providing the request broker technology in the same way that there are different flavours of the SQL database access language.
Microsoft also has its commanding market share to leverage and may yet be able to exploit the fact that the four companies in the alliance also have their own competitive interests to pursue. Oracle8, for example, is positioned as competitive to IBM's DB2: how far does so-called co-opetition extend in the name of the best interests of the industry?
John Slitz, vice president of technology for IBM's Software Group, used his keynote address to try and further the 'gang of four's' manifesto, arguing that CORBA can be to the enterprise what Windows is to the desktop. 'There is a $5 trillion installed software base out there and nobody want to have to recreate it,' he said.
'We are 100% behind the OMG and 100% behind industry standards,'he added. 'IBM has tried to push our own standards in the past and it didn't work.'
For the OMG itself, this has proved to be something of a watershed Object World. The conference started in the early 1990s as a relatively small affair in the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Within a comparatively short space time, it had expanded rapidly as OMG membership exploded. Separate shows were mounted in Boston, London, Germany and Japan.
But last year the group sold out its interests in the show to Softbank, organisers of the Comdex trade show, who now plan to roll Object World in with the Java One conference series to create Comdex Enterprise. It is, runs the partyline, a vindication that object technology is now part of the mainstream.
It may also be indicative of the more subdued mood of Object World in recent years. In the early days when the CORBA specification was being formed among internecine alliances of rival vendors, Object World shows were heady places, charged with tangible excitement from delegates and vendors. Outrageous marketing claims of phenomenal growth were bandied around as suppliers jockeyed for position on a fast-moving bandwagon.
But the industry has matured and there have been casualties. Objects did not make it into the mainstream as quickly as they were expected to. A few years ago object oriented databases and data management were the hot topics, but no any longer. The mantra of software reuse, mouthed so religiously in the first half of the decade, scarcely merits a mention.
Ironically what appears to have happened is something along the lines of a back to basics movement. The focus of interest in the market has shifted back to object request broking and CORBA, the starting point for the OMG's activities.
Irish firm Iona used the show to make the formal launch of its OrbixManager 1.0, a tool for the management and monitoring of objects in CORBA networked environments which is designed to support Iona's Orbix request broker. Java support will come later this year.
Meanwhile rival Visigenic - currently the darling of the request broker industry - launched its own Visibroker 3.0 for Java and C++. Visisgenic's technology has been endorsed and adopted by a number of leading suppliers, including Oracle, Novell, Sybase, Netscape and Borland.
Also at Object World, ICL was trying to drum up US support for its DAIS object request broker, boasting that it had become the first ORB vendor to integrated the CORBA-standard Transaction Service. This is a facility which enables application developers to deal with transaction error handling and recovery.
ICL claimed that the inclusion of the transaction service element means that DAIS is the only tool in the class of middleware defined by market analysts Gartner Group as Object-Transactional Middleware, which can bring together robust TP monitor functionality with the object-based programming interfaces of ORBs.
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