In a move that would have been unthinkable not long ago, Lotus president Jeff Papows has used the platform of an Internet Expo keynote in Boston to publicly praise Microsoft's Internet strategy and urge vendors to set aside their differences and use Java to meld competing object models.
Papows, who will meet Microsoft chief Bill Gates today to discuss this and other issues, is calling Microsoft "reasonable" in its approach to offer a more granular level of Java and distributed object integration with the Windows platform than other platforms.
Both Microsoft's Distributed Common Object Model (DCOM), as well as the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) supported by IBM, Netscape, Oracle, Sun and others, will both be in play for the long time, so vendors should quit squabbling and define some common ORB semantics in pure Java to promote interoperability, Papows says.
"If we get in our respective fox holes and throw rocks at each other, that'll lead nowhere," he says.
Likewise, Papows says vendors should work to create enough proximity in a subset of Microsoft's Application Foundation Class (AFC) and Internet Foundation Class (IFC) to enable the classes to co-exist at some level.
And users should heed his rallying cry and urge their vendors to co-operate in this area, he says.
"You need to vote with your chequebooks to make it happen," he told a packed audience of conference attendees.
Some attendees are heartened by Papows' call for co-operation.
Competition "is probably natural, coming out of the nature of business, but I think there's too much animosity between the players," says Robert Pellowski, an independent software consultant.
Another attendee welcomes that Papows said large companies are not necessarily as powerful as they may seem to end-users.
"It's very useful to have someone from a large corporation say things are not as monolithic as they appear," says Michael Genovese, an independent marketing consultant. "People need to be reminded that Lotus and Microsoft are some of the major players but what's really going on is up to thousands of companies and engineers."
But another attendee says that Papows' call for user input around ensuring Java's interoperability fit a little too neatly with Lotus' own interests.
"An IBM or a Lotus wants to have Java out there to make sure that Microsoft doesn't continue to dominate," says John Frankenthaler, president of a consulting company based in Needham, Massachusetts.
If some attendees are cynical about Papows' message, another attendee perceives one of genuine co-operative spirit, and also points out that co-operation could create competitive difficulties for the companies.
"I realise it may cause problems for them in terms of differentiating their products," says Douglas Hunt, an Internet/intranet developer with the Hartford Financial Group in Hartford, Connecticut. "But they've got to co-operate and if they don't we're going to make them."
As for dashing off to heed Papows' call to inform vendors of their desire for Java interoperability, most users agree with Hunt, who says that his participation would most likely be informal.
"I'm not sure if I will individually do anything in terms of writing an email, but I will certainly talk about it to the people in my business unit," Hunt says.
In a conversation after the keynote, Papows said he does not see Sun's Remote Method Invocation (RMI) as the means for linking the ORBs, but he did not suggest a different mechanism.
RMI enables Java objects to talk across a network and does roughly the same job as CORBA's Internet Inter-ORB Protocol or Microsoft's Distributed Computing Environment.
Papows' call for unity with Microsoft comes two weeks after the companies agreed to bundle Microsoft's Internet Explorer with Notes 4.6.
Papows says that today he will discuss with Gates more granular levels of integration between Notes 5.0 and Internet Explorer, Dynamic HTML and NT 5.0.
While Papows is holding out an olive branch to Microsoft, he has reaffirmed that no such peace offering will be extended to Netscape unless it unbundle its Navigator browser from its Communicator Web client suite, which has groupware feature that compete with Notes.
"The ball is in its court," he says, adding that there is less "acidity" in the Netscape/Lotus relationship now than in past weeks.
If Netscape chooses to unbundle Navigator, then Lotus will consider bundling and integration agreements akin to the Microsoft agreement, he says.