OMG expands CORBA, pledges neutrality

The Object Management Group Inc. (OMG) last week made progress toward expanding its core CORBA platform technologies, advancing its business object frameworks initiative, and shoring-up CORBA interoperability with Microsoft's Common Object Model (COM). Also at the OMG meeting in Dublin, the group's newly appointed Chairman and CEO Richard Soley emphasised the need to maintain CORBA's language and platform independence, even while working to support key technologies like Java.

The Object Management Group Inc. (OMG) last week made progress toward expanding its core CORBA platform technologies, advancing its business object frameworks initiative, and shoring-up CORBA interoperability with Microsoft's Common Object Model (COM).

Also at the OMG meeting in Dublin, the group's newly appointed Chairman and CEO Richard Soley emphasised the need to maintain CORBA's language and platform independence, even while working to support key technologies like Java.

The roughly 800-member object software standards group began final balloting on the adoption of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and a corresponding Meta Object Facility (MOF), an extension of its COM-to-CORBA bridge specification-Part B, and revisions of its original COM-to-CORBA bridge specification-Part A.

All are expected to be adopted by the end of the polling process, which usually lasts 10 or more weeks, according to OMG officials. Most of the polling is conducted on-line, with those OMG members attending the meeting casting paper ballots.

The UML standard promises to simplify the object analysis and design process by providing a lingua franca for the many analysis and design tools on the market, Soley explained. The Meta Object Facility (MOF) provides a means of defining and manipulating application meta-models, according to OMG materials.

"Before, you had no guarantee of interoperability among models," said Soley. "You didn't even have a guarantee that files could be passed from one tool to another. Now, you can go from tool to tool with methodology interoperability and move files from one tool to another. This gives you one methodology with mappings to existing methodologies."

The Part B COM-to-CORBA Interworking specification is an extension of the existing COM-to-CORBA bridge that bolsters performance by leveraging Distributed COM (DCOM), according to Soley.

The bridge specification includes a mapping, or translation from CORBA, IDL to the COM interface definition language - called MIDL - and a protocol to handle communications between the components, according to Soley.

"You can use any protocol you want for connecting CORBA and COM components," Soley said. "You can use IIOP, DCOM, or a piece of string with two tin cans, but you have to support IIOP to start with [in order to be OMG-approved]. CORBA has pluggable protocols. A company could ship a product that speaks DCOM. IIOP is a great protocol, but it's not what makes CORBA great."

The OMG cannot contractually obligate vendors implementing the COM-to-CORBA bridge to support IIOP, but could refuse to endorse products that don't support it or deny any eventual OMG branding, according to Soley.

Though Microsoft this week announced agreements with major client/server applications vendors for the implementation of COM and related networking technologies, CORBA is expected to receive a similar show of support, according to sources.

Systems Software Associates Inc. currently provides CORBA IDL interfaces to its applications. The Baan Co. is reportedly working on adding CORBA support to its shipping products and has provided CORBA integration in the case of at least one large customer. Announcements from ORB vendors and client/server applications providers are expected soon.

The OMG this week also ratified its first domain-specific, or vertical industry, business object standard for the management and control of audio-visual streams within CORBA applications.

The OMG also ratified the XCMF 1.1 systems management specification co-authored with the Open Group, and added time and internationalization to the CORBA Common Facilities layer. Also on the docket was ratification of the latest version of the CORBA specification - 2.1.

While underscoring the group's strong commitment to supporting Java, including its modification of the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP) to work with Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI) and the likely adoption of a component model based on JavaBeans, Soley stressed that the CORBA platform and services would remain open.

OMG members reacted negatively to a recent suggestion to replace CORBA Interface Definition Language (IDL) with Java, Soley noted. CORBA IDL links client and server applications to CORBA ORBs and includes mappings to a wide variety of programming languages.

"I don't want CORBA Java-ised, because Java is not universal," Soley said. "There are other languages with other models. We must remain multi-platform. [But] CORBA should be at least as friendly to Java as it is to other languages. We want the mapping to Java to be as natural as possible. We also want the mapping to COBOL to be as natural as possible."

A Java-to-IDL mapping that allows Java programmers to automatically generate IDL, rather than having to wrestle with the complexities of IDL programming, is on tap for later this year, according to Soley.

Assessing the organisation's past performance, Soley touted the OMG's success in achieving consensus among its almost 800 members. He also cited the adoption of OpenDoc as a mistake.

"We've fallen down a couple of rat holes," Soley said. "One of them was OpenDoc. We were pushed hard by some members who then dropped it faster than we did. I don't want to fall down another, even if it's Java," he added.

Responses to the OMG's requests for proposals of CORBA component model and scripting specifications are due in October, according to Soley. The so-called CORBAbeans and CORBAscript specifications, along with objects-by-value support in IIOP, a CORBA messaging service, and multiple interface support constitute much of the CORBA 3.0 update due early next year.

The Dublin meeting agenda also called for the OMG Domain Technology Committee to address the addition of special interest groups for electric utilities and biotech/pharmaceutical industries. The group's vertical industry domains include finance/insurance, electronic commerce, telecommunications, transportation, health care, and manufacturing.

"Each industry had a set of objects and frameworks for creating applications in its domain using CORBA-standardized interfaces and semantics," explained Jon Siegel, director of OMG Domain Technology. "Standard objects can be purchased and embedded in the applications, and companies will be able to integrate them over private or public networks, using the standard CORBA architecture."

The meeting drew roughly 450 members and guests, the group's largest turnout outside of the United States, according to OMG officials.

The Object Management Group, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, is at http://www.omg.org/.

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