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MS makes its WinSock a team player

In response to complaints that many applications based on its 32-bit WinSock were crashing, Microsoft has posted new material for developers on its Web site that should bring its WinSock in line with everyone else's.

    In response to complaints that many applications based on its 32-bit WinSock were crashing, Microsoft has posted new material for developers on its Web site that should bring its WinSock in line with everyone else's.

    WinSock is a piece of software that acts as the middleman between Windows applications (such as FTP, a Web browser, Telnet, and so forth) and the Internet protocol TCP/IP. WinSock came about to make life easier for Windows programmers designing networking applications and is typically stored in a file called winsock.dll.

    Developers and users started complaining about compatibility problems after Microsoft added proprietary extensions to the 32-bit WinSock DLL released in Windows 95. Developers complained that Microsoft hadn't informed them of the changes, said Marty Bickford, director of partner relations at Stardust Technology, an independent company that conducts interoperability testing for WinSock applications and one of the leaders of the WinSock Group, a forum for vendors that help define and use the WinSock API.

    After an emergency meeting of the WinSock Group at last week's Networld + Interop trade show in Las Vegas, Microsoft has posted new material to explain its WinSock implementation to developers at its Web site, clarification that Bickford says should eliminate the incompatibility problems.

    "Microsoft has done a good job responding to this, and the clarifications clearly fix the problems," Bickford said.

    The incompatibility caused crashes of 32-bit applications because developers weren't writing their applications to match the WinSock included in Windows 95. Likewise, applications that accounted for the proprietary extensions wouldn't run on TCP/IP stacks, or implementations of the TCP/IP communications standard, provided by other vendors.

    "Considering that Microsoft's TCP/IP stack isn't the only one out there and the proprietary extensions weren't clearly identified caused them not to work over other stacks, including FTP Software, Sun Microsystems, and PSINet," Bickford said.

    A large percentage of developers writing a 32-bit application were affected by the problem; even the Microsoft developers that created that latest version of the PowerPoint presentation package were tripped up, Bickford said. "PowerPoint has since treated this as a bug and have created a group to provide the appropriate fix," he said.

    Stardust officials claim they were aware of the problem eight to ten months ago.

    Stardust has also posted a white paper on its own Web page to clarify exactly what the Microsoft-specific extensions are and how to avoid future problems.