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Microsoft rivals team up

IBM, Sun, Oracle, and Netscape are teaming up to embrace CORBA and other object technology to challenge Microsoft.

A group of the computer industry's heaviest hitters have banded together in a new effort to block Microsoft (MSFT) from defining standards for developing object technology and endorse the Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA).

But except for sending a strong anti-Microsoft message of solidarity, the initiative, announced by IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Netscape Communications, is not substantive and does little beyond reiterating existing CORBA support, according to analysts.

"They are admitting that CORBA has not provided a platform for interoperability so far and that everyone has just been playing patty-cake with CORBA," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research.

The companies today announced a new initiative for common development standards for object technology intended to make their software products work together as if they were built together. "There is a need for us to collaborate to get consistency and let customers seamlessly install applications," said Steve Mills, general manager of IBM's software solutions division.

Mills, and executives from the other companies, said they will collaborate on interoperability enhancements based on CORBA and the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP). The enhancements will be completed by year's end and will be submitted to the Object Management Group for inclusion in the CORBA spec.

Additionally, the vendors promise to incorporate the undefined enhancements into the next major releases of their products.

The windy wording of the agreement gives the four vendors plenty of wiggle room, leading at least one analyst to downplay the significance of the agreement. "I take this with a grain of salt," Dolberg said. "This requires more coordination than any of these vendors are capable of providing. It's hard to take this seriously."

But the agreement does indicate that the vendors and Microsoft feel the distributed object computing future is coming faster than anyone had predicted.

At the heart of the matter, the joint effort is aimed at preventing Microsoft from dominating object technology standards, much as it does in the desktop operating systems arena.

By establishing broad industry support for CORBA and IIOP, the vendors hope to keep the software giant from dictating technical standards for object technology used to develop electronic commerce applications.

The four developers also invited others in the industry, including Microsoft, to support the standards.

However, few experts feel that Microsoft will take an active role in the initiative. The company is expected to continue focusing its efforts on its own object technology, based on ActiveX and its Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed COM technology.