As speculation continues to swirl around ActiveX standardisation meeting in New York in two weeks, ISVs, customers and other interested parties are preparing to hold Microsoft to a high standard of openness.
Chief concerns include the degree to which Microsoft opens access to ActiveX technology for integrating components, the terms of the licensing agreement itself and the composition of the resulting standards group. The stated goal of the standards process is to proliferate the use of ActiveX in tools and applications and port the technology to non-Windows environments, but some observers continue to question the software giant's motives.
Analysts expect the licensing conditions to be light in terms of constraints and cost, given Microsoft's strategic stake in maintaining momentum around ActiveX, the foundation of its software strategy. "We intend to make the technologies easily available. We don't intend to make money on this," says Ramesh Parameswaran, ActiveX product manager, in Redmond, Washington. "The specification is a great way to get documentation."
Licensees will receive the complete specification and binary version, source-code reference implementation, and verification tests for Component Object Model and Distributed COM -- the core ActiveX technologies that allow components to interoperate in an application.
Among the parties expected to license ActiveX are systems vendors, component developers and development tools providers. Microsoft also will provide source code for the dependent technologies that are required to support ActiveX on non-Windows platforms, according to Cornelius Willis, group manager of developer products in the Microsoft Internet and tools division.
Those dependent technologies include monikers, which provide asynchronous communication between objects; structured storage; the Windows registry; and the Windows NT security services API, according to Willis.
Another major question swirling around the proceedings is whether Microsoft will create a new standards body to act as ActiveX steward or work with an existing group, an option that many ISVs prefer.
Also to be decided is whether licensees will be required to submit extensions and modifications to ActiveX code back to Microsoft, which JavaSoft now stipulates in its Java licensing terms. Conformance testing and certification procedures will also be addressed.
Although they are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, some interested parties see possible pitfalls. "It's unclear what's going to be available and what's going to be held back. We're also hoping that the people who come from Microsoft are in a position to make decisions," says Bob Zurek, director of research and development at the Powersoft Business Group of Sybase, in Concord, Massachusetts, who added that ISVs are concerned that their influence on the standards effort might not be commensurate with their investments in ActiveX.