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Networld+Interop: Sun, Apple, IBM create OpenDoc

Companies integrate Internet with corporate desktop

By Sari Kalin, Sharon Gaudin

October  1996
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Atlanta -- Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer Inc., and IBM are teaming up to boost each other's fortunes in the intranet marketplace, hoping to beat Microsoft to the punch.

"[Users] will have a powerful and competitive alternative to the Wintel platform," said George Scalise, Apple's chief administrative officer, during the announcement at Networld+Interop in late September.

Sun's Chief Technical Officer Eric Schmidt said he had been personally pushing very hard for the alliance, because he has admired Apple's technology for a long time.

The companies plan to improve the interoperability between Solaris servers and Macintosh clients, officials said. The OpenDoc compound document architecture developed by Apple and IBM will be made interoperable with Java Beans, Sun's model for building Java components, officials said. And Sun's JavaMedia will be integrated with Apple's QuickTime, so a Java applet on a Web page can run a QuickTime movie, officials said.

The OpenDoc component package will enable developers to move Internet content, such as Java applets or ActiveX components, into desktop applications.

"That potentially will halve our support costs. Our IT people will be able to put applications up on the intranet for downloading, instead of distributing applications to 5,000 desktops," said the systems manager at a major bank. "That's more than a cosmetic change. That's going to fundamentally change the way IT does a lot of things."

This integration is the first step in an effort to combine OpenDoc technology with Sun's Java Beans initiative. OpenDoc is a standard architecture for plugging together software components to create distributed applications. The Java Beans initiative is aimed at creating a set of component application programming interfaces for the Java platform that will allow developers to build reusable Java components that can communicate with one another.


Messin' with Microsoft
Together, Sun, Apple, and IBM are trying to take the wind out of Microsoft's sails. Microsoft has been touting Memphis, the next commercial release of Windows 95, as the first integration of the Internet with the desktop. This release, slated to ship in mid-1997, is expected to merge the Windows 95 user interface with the company's World Wide Web browser, Internet Explorer 4.0.

"There's beginning to be some real meat behind the power struggle," said Judith Hurwitz, president of Newton, MA-based Hurwitz Group Inc. "The Internet has been the one thing that has been challenging Microsoft, and Microsoft's enemies are clearly taking advantage of that."

OpenDoc's main rival is Microsoft's ActiveX technology, which is Microsoft-specific. Microsoft has been gaining attention and mind share for its ActiveX components, while OpenDoc followers have been waiting for that technology to pick up some momentum. Several users said this rash of OpenDoc announcements may be the push they needed.

"This is huge for us," said David Bowser, distributed information architect at Cummins Engine Co. in Columbus, Indiana. "Combining information from multiple sources is vital. Creating a report that has live feeds...imagine that...Applications as we know them will fade."

Java and OpenDoc could have competed against each other, but Sun, Apple, and IBM have circled their wagons to better battle Microsoft, which is focused on dominating the Internet as it does the desktop, according to Karen Boucher, an analyst at The Standish Group International Inc. in Dennis, MA.

"Microsoft wanted to be the first to integrate the Internet with the desktop, and now someone has beaten them to it," Boucher added. "OpenDoc and Java together are very powerful."

Microsoft pitches ActiveX as a platform for development, while it sees Java as "just a language," said Daryl Plummer, research director for application development tools and technologies at the Gartner Group in Atlanta. "This announcement firmly puts Java in the [ActiveX] competition arena," Plummer said.

ActiveX has functionality, said Ellen Hancock, Apple's chief technology officer. "But it has not yet answered the multiplatform, open standards questions that my customers are asking," Hancock said.

No date has been set for final delivery of the integrated offerings, officials said. But Sun and Apple are demonstrating some of their integration efforts at the show, including Java Management Application Programming Interface (JMAPI) desktop control functions running on a Macintosh, and Solaris servers distributing Apple multimedia across a network to different types of clients, officials said.

To improve Solaris-Mac interoperability, Sun and Apple plan to bundle the Apple File Protocol with every Solaris server, so Macintoshes can be fully managed by SunSoft's Solstice management package, officials said. Sun and Apple also plan to develop a common security architecture, and give Mac clients access to Web applications via Sun's WebNFS, among other enhancements, officials said.

The companies plan to set up an interoperability lab to make sure their technologies mesh well, officials said. Also as part of the alliance, Sun and Apple will work together to boost support for mediaLib, an interface to multimedia-capable processors.

The OpenDoc announcements include the following:

--Sari Kalin, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau and Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld

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