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Component debate moves to next level

The war to define Internet-ready component software models may be just about over. But a new battle over applications that use those models has just begun.

The war to define Internet-ready component software models may be just about over. But a new battle over applications that use those models has just begun.

Analysts said Sun Microsystems' announcement yesterday that its JavaSoft division will adopt IIOP (Internet Inter-ORB Protocol) as a way for Java components to communicate across the network, in addition to Sun's own RMI (Remote Method Invocation), means the industry is now neatly divided into two camps.

On one side are Sun, Netscape Communications, Oracle, and IBM, which have all endorsed IIOP, a part of CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture), as their cross-platform communications protocol, and Java as their platform-independent language of choice.

Across the aisle is Microsoft and its ActiveX framework, DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) protocol, and assorted DCOM-friendly tools, such as Visual Basic.

Both component models will exist for the foreseeable future, as corporate developers and independent software vendors have already invested in development for each.

In large part, the dominance of either component model will be determined by the number of software developers who build products to make the model more useful, according to a report just issued by Forrester Research.

Now that component models have been defined, the industry debate can move beyond defining base-level protocols to the question of supplying applications and services that build on top of those models, according to Forrester.

"The next level of debate in the industry will not be component models--those are set--but the services that use those models," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst at Forrester. "In the future, middleware and applications will get built in two basic flavors--one is Microsoft [DCOM], and the other is Java."

Now that the CORBA/Java camp has agreed on a single protocol, each vendor is free to build specialized applications that work with IIOP, said Dolberg. Those applications will supply vital cross-platform services, such as security, message queuing, transaction management, and applications management.

The specialized applications will also give the CORBA gang of four--IBM, Oracle, Netscape, and Sun--a way to differentiate themselves through specialized applications that build on CORBA. For instance, Forrester predicts that IBM and Netscape will fight for the collaboration software market, while Sun stakes a claim in e-commerce, and Oracle continues to makes its name in large-scale transaction processing.

The race to deliver third-party applications has already started. Next week, Visigenic Software will detail its Distributed Application Platform strategy which builds upon CORBA to provide corporate IS developers with system-level services, such as transaction management, data integration, and data access capabilities.

Other software makers are expected to follow suit.

On the DCOM side, Microsoft largely supplies its own services software, such as its Microsoft Transaction Server and Microsoft Message Queuing software. But there will still be a market for software tools that make Microsoft's base-level services more useful. That's already happened with Microsoft's Systems Management Server software, which has been augmented via a number of third-party packages.

What it all boils down to for corporate IS developers is picking a winner. Forrester suggests two factors to help IS chiefs make the choice:

--First, look at commitments to packaged business applications. That could tip the scales. For instance, PeopleSoft favors the CORBA component model approach, while SAP leans toward DCOM.

--Second, evaluate near-term scalability requirements. If corporations plan to greatly expand their cross-platform applications in the near future, Forrester suggests that CIOs go the CORBA route, since third-party support there is greater.