Consortium starts work on electronic commerce platform

A new consortium is setting out to create a software platform based on the Commom Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) for electronic commerce.

A new consortium is setting out to create a software platform based on the Commom Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) for electronic commerce. The project, called Open Service Model (OSM), aims to create an open platform based on Iona's Orbix and a competing product called Black Widow from the US-based Visigenic (formerly Post Modern Computing Technologies.). Members include Iona Technologies, Visigenic, the Object Management Group and European universities.

Black Widow is a plug-in for Java compliant browsers, forming a bridge from Java to CORBA. Orbix is an Object Request Broker that next year will let CORBA objects talk to ActiveX objects on Windows NT.

The Object Management Group is a vendor group that approves the specifications for CORBA. Software compliant with CORBA allows object-based software from a variety of developers to communicate over a network.

The OSM consortium was formed in July and does not expect to begin testing software until the end of next year, as many technical details -- such as how the user interface will look -- still need to be hammered out.

OSM, which gets about half its funding from the European Commission, intends to offer companies a software platform that will integrate easily with their existing systems. The software will provide a means of searching for, gathering, filtering and exchanging information. It will also cover negotiating and signing contracts, the distribution and delivery of goods and a variety of payment methods including electronic cash, credit card and direct debit.

Part of what differentiates the project from systems developed by companies such as IBM is how users will look for services, according to Libero Maesano, director of the OSM project. Instead of visiting an individual vendor's Web site or a shopping mall run by an Internet service provider -- where there is only a selected group of vendors -- customers will be able to search for a specific product or service and compare goods from all vendors. The only snag is that the choice of vendors will be restricted to those that have chosen to buy the software developed by OSM.

The product will also allow for secure one-to-one negotiations. Maesano hopes a loosening of US encryption laws will ease corporate worries about security, which he sees as the real obstacle to widespread acceptance of electronic commerce.

The product will be marketed globally for inter-company use. "Initially the service has the most chance of taking off as a service between businesses," says Regis Saleur, the director of the Internet and groupware division of Ingenia, a French firm that advises companies setting up Intranets, which is co-ordinating the OSM project.

The product should be available mid-1998.

OSM's members are: Iona from Ireland, iHM from France, AIE of the Netherlands, CIE France, Trialog SA France, ACS Systemberatung from Germany, Hamburg University, Fraunhofer Gesellschsaft from Germany, Imperial College in London and two US members, Object Management Group and Visigenic.

OSM's Web site is at:

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