In an effort to bring some order to a muddled application development strategy, IBM plans to enhance its Open Class libraries later this year as part of a plan to strongly emphasise cross-platform development.
The vanguard of that drive will be an updated version of IBM's Open Class libraries that lets C++ developers tap into Lotus' Notes services, such as replication and the Notes directory, across multiple platforms. "We will have a set of class libraries in the next release of Open Class that are C++ wrappers to the Notes APIs, so anyone using VisualAge C++ can write an application that takes advantage of Notes' services," says Skip McGaughey, market manager for IBM's VisualAge family.
This move follows IBM's recently announced plans to allow VisualAge developers to add Notes and Internet parts to its VisualAge for Smalltalk products. By writing to the Open Class libraries rather than lower-level and operating system-specific APIs, developers will be able to create applications that are significantly more portable across all of IBM's major platforms as well as Windows, thereby creating a larger market for developers that adopt IBM tools.
In contrast, developers that write to OS-specific APIs, such as the ones used in OS/2, will find the installed base for their applications limited by the overall success of a particular platform.
Most developers on IBM platforms say the company's strategy is solid, but others note that IBM is still missing a way to develop applications using a single interface on multiple platforms. "We like what they are doing. We are not completely happy with the product Open Class libraries on the Windows side yet, because the look and feel isn't there and there is no support for Windows 95 controls, which we absolutely need. But it will get there," says Chuck Reeves, a developer with DST Systems, in Kansas City, Missouri.
In concert with the Open Class libraries initiative, IBM hopes to take advantage of the Internet to foster its cross-platform strategy, specifically by exposing Web server links as C++ objects. A parallel thrust calls for exposing back-end services such as CICS mainframe transactions and its MQSeries messaging middleware as a set of prewritten class libraries. This means that in conjunction with IBM's prewritten Internet components, users can create three-tier applications with dynamic Web pages generated from Notes, CICS, or database transactions.
In general, developers are attracted by the payoff of writing an application once for several platforms, but the question that perpetually hovers behind most IBM initiatives is whether IBM can successfully carry its message outside its installed base. "Visual Age C++ is a really strong tool, but you don't hear a lot about it except from those with a significant investment in IBM products," says Melinda Ballou, senior analyst with Meta Group, in Stamford, Connecticut. "Their plan sounds interesting, but the issue will be getting out a clear message."
"They have been saying for a while they want us to write to the higher-level stuff in Open Class, but they also say to write to Developer API Extensions," says Randell Flint, president of Sundial Systems, in Seal Beach, California. "It is a mixed strategy that they have not completely elucidated."