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MS wants OpenDoc developers

One week after Apple pulls the plug on its component architecture, Microsoft courts OpenDoc developers to join its independent software vendor program.

Microsoft (MSFT) wants OpenDoc developers to know that it feels their pain.

One week after Apple (AAPL) said it was pulling the plug on its component architecture, Microsoft has sent an "open letter to the OpenDoc community" inviting developers to join its independent software vendor (ISV) program. Although the letter from Tod Nielsen, general manager of Microsoft developer relations, doesn't explicitly urge developers to switch to ActiveX--Microsoft's competing component architecture--the company clearly has an interest in luring OpenDoc developers into its camp.

Microsoft appears to be shoring up its relationship with component developers at a time when a competing architecture, JavaBeans, is attracting interest among programmers, particularly OpenDoc programmers that have been left stranded by Apple.

Component architectures allow developers to more efficiently assemble applications out of small, reusable chunks of code. They also allow applications to share between each other, giving users the ability, for example, to drag a spreadsheet into a word processing document. Specifically, JavaBeans and ActiveX--which is based on an older Microsoft technology called OLE (Object Linking and Embedding)--are emerging as the two leading architectures for Internet developers.

Proponents of JavaBeans say that the technology allows developers to create more secure programs that run on a broad array of operating systems than ActiveX, which is primarily a Windows technology. Microsoft argues that ActiveX is more powerful and has a greater range of features than Java. But the company also encourages developers to use a combination of Java and ActiveX APIs (application programming interfaces).

"Our hope is that JavaBeans will grow up a little so we don't have to rely on ActiveX," said Neal Williams, president of OpenDoc developer Corda. "I know Microsoft has said they will bring ActiveX to other platforms. But their performance in the past for bringing OLE to other platforms has been pretty slow."

Sun Microsystems, Apple, Netscape Communications, IBM, and Oracle are the chief supporters of JavaBeans.

"We really don't care what technology developers use," said Cornelius Willis, group marketing manager at Microsoft. "We ship more copies of Java than anybody. We want a relationship with all component developers."

As part of the ISV program it is pitching to OpenDoc developers this week, Microsoft is promising companies promotional benefits, technical assistance, and discounts on support for their products. Willis said Microsoft will support JavaBeans in Internet Explorer 4.0. Some OpenDoc developers are well aware of the benefits of working with Microsoft, but say they are compelled by the technical advantages of JavaBeans.

"The big advantages for ActiveX is that Microsoft is behind it and that Microsoft markets it aggressively," said Steve Roussey, president of Kantara Development. "You can't ignore that. For what we're doing, security and cross-platform are more important."

Analysts are predicting that JavaBeans will become a tough competitor to ActiveX in the coming years and could weaken Microsoft's huge influence of developers.

"We have a real fight now," said David Smith, an analyst with Gartner Group. "We will see a tremendous amount of JavaBeans hit the market in '98. JavaBeans will give ActiveX a real run for its money."