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HP bridges ActiveX, CORBA

Hewlett-Packard releases a specification designed to make it easier to link networks of Unix- and Windows NT-based computers.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) today added a salvo in the escalating war between Microsoft (MSFT) and Netscape Communications (NSCP) for control of Internet standards.

With Microsoft's blessing, HP has proposed a specification designed to make it easier to link networks of Unix- and Windows NT-based computers.

The specification, submitted to the Object Management Group, defines a technique for bridging Microsoft's ActiveX component technology and systems based on the OMG's CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) specification.

However, a rival group that includes Netscape, IBM, and other vendors backing the OMG's Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP) technology has submitted a similar bridging spec that will compete with the HP spec for the OMG's blessing.

ActiveX and its underlying cross-platform communications protocol, DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model), form the component technology base under Microsoft's Windows 95 and NT operating systems. Many Unix software vendors, including Netscape, Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Oracle, have banded together to support CORBA and IIOP, which is defined in the CORBA specs as a cross-platform object framework.

The primary difference between the two submissions boils down to DCOM, OMG chairman Chris Stone said. "The HP submission says you can use either DCOM or IIOP to bridge COM and CORBA. The other submission only uses IIOP," Stone said.

Microsoft has repeatedly promised to supply, either by itself or through a third party, a COM-to-CORBA bridge. But the company has typically put any CORBA-related technology on the back burner in favor of its own proprietary Component Object Model technology. Microsoft is one of the few major software makers that is not a member of the OMG.

The HP bridge will allow systems developers to link new and existing Windows-based systems to Unix applications, effectively making ActiveX more useful as an enterprisewide technology. The company is also moving key ActiveX technologies, such as DCOM, to Unix and the Macintosh.

Both bridging submissions are being reviewed by the OMG. Stone said the OMG will examine the technical merits of both submissions, adding that a decision should be made by September.

Specifically, the HP specification proposes to add to the current CORBA spec a detailed method for allowing DCOM to be used as a protocol directly supported by CORBA. The bridge, in effect, will make CORBA-compliant components look like ActiveX components to cross-platform applications.

Object request broker technology that bridges the two systems has been available from third-party vendors. But the integration of the bridging spec into the CORBA specification will allow developers to call ActiveX technology directly through CORBA without additional software.

Stone said the competition between the rival camps will only intensify throughout this year. The battle for a cross-platform protocol "comes down to HTTP, which is unlikely to win; DCOM, and IIOP."