Netscape to deploy ORB technology

Netscape this week will add another front to its far-ranging war with Microsoft when it launches an Open Network Environment (ONE) for application development.

Netscape this week will add another front to its far-ranging war with Microsoft when it launches an Open Network Environment (ONE) for application development. In an attempt to get momentum behind the Object Management Group (OMG)'s CORBA object management protocol and Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP) as a counter to Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), Netscape will embrace Visigenic's object request broker (ORB) technology.

"Netscape has jumped into the CORBA camp with this announcement," says Mike Kennedy, an analyst with Meta Group, in Boston. "They are trying to rally the CORBA and Java vendors against Microsoft's ActiveX technology."

OMG officials say Netscape is officially joining the OMG this week. For developers, IIOP support will not only enable interoperability between object architectures, but it will also operate with existing flat-file applications, giving both backward and forward application compatibility. For example, IIOP will allow a user to access a flat-file application, such as an accounting database, by invoking an application service that links to the legacy system function, which is "wrapped" with an ORB stub.

"IIOP is a well-defined standard, rather than the smoke and mirrors of DCOM," says Donald DiPalma, an analyst with Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This will give developers a real alternative to the Windows environment."

To help developers start writing ONE applications, Netscape is releasing a software developer's kit and a series of beta versions of IIOP foundation classes. The first two classes are for user-interface controls and user-interface services. A new version of JavaScript, Version 1.1, that supports IIOP, will also be released in August.

"These are the next-generation development tools for building applications for any machine on any platform," says Alex Edelstein, Netscape Navigator group product manager.

Visigenic's Black Widow ORB allows a piece of software to make calls on another piece of software, regardless of its location on the network.

DiPalma says that Netscape's decision to go with IIOP will dramatically increase its visibility. "Until now, IIOP has been largely on the server, not the client," DiPalma says. "When IIOP is installed on 35 million or 40 million Netscape Navigators, it will spread that standard."

Netscape plans to include the Black Widow ORB and the first five releases of the Internet Foundation Classes in its next-generation client and server suites, code-named Galileo and Orion, respectively, due in the fourth quarter.

Meta Group's Kennedy says for Netscape's ONE platform to be successful, the Mountain View, California-based company would need a lot of help. However, useful friends may be waiting in the wings.

"Informix, Lotus and Oracle have all been talking about IIOP," DiPalma says.

Microsoft officials, who have been pushing the company's ActiveX framework, dismissed the Netscape IIOP-based proposal as "proprietary" and an attempt to catch up with Microsoft.

"We have a licensing structure in place now," says Cornelius Willis, group product manager for the Internet developer marketing at Microsoft.

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