MS licenses COM to SGI, Iona

Microsoft says it will take a more active role in providing versions of its component technology for Unix and other operating systems.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
3 min read
Microsoft (MSFT) today said that it will take a more active role in providing versions of its component technology for Unix and other operating systems, a signal, analysts say, that the company is taking its battle against CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) backers and Java proponents more seriously.

Microsoft said it will license COM technologies to Silicon Graphics and CORBA object request broker specialist Iona. Silicon Graphics plans to implement COM on Unix, while Iona intends to build a COM-to-CORBA bridge to allow systems built to conform to the differing architectures to communicate.

In addition, existing COM licensee Digital Equipment plans to begin early customer testing of COM ported to its OpenVMS operating system and will soon do the same for its Digital Unix.

Microsoft also committed an unspecified number of internal developers to building COM technologies for Unix, and in the future, for other operating systems, according to Joe Maloney, a Microsoft product manager.

Microsoft will now offer support directly to users of COM on non-Microsoft operating systems, a first for the company, Maloney claims. "This is a huge change for Microsoft. We will become more and more involved in this, as far as development and support," he said.

The deals mean that corporations looking for a component model for building cross-platform applications will gain some important shrink-wrapped technology that could give Microsoft's plan a distinct advantage over the competing CORBA scheme.

CORBA is backed by Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Novell, and other companies that see it, along with Java, as the ideal, vendor-neutral cross-platform integration technology.

But with base-level COM technologies available on Unix and on IBM's AS/400 and mainframe systems, the job of integrating new Windows NT-based applications with existing corporate applications could be vastly simpler, said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies.

Even with the attention paid to competing operating systems, Microsoft's focus is clearly on making Windows NT more appealing to corporations as the foundation for new business systems. "Microsoft will pay lip service to interoperability, but the clear goal is to get people to move to NT," Davis said. "Microsoft will do all it can to make COM on NT hard to resist over time."

Left unresolved is what happens to an existing deal between Microsoft and Software AG, the mainframe and Unix systems company hand picked by Microsoft several years ago to perform the porting of COM technologies to Unix and legacy systems. Now that Microsoft has chosen to take a large part of the porting work in-house, the deal seems redundant, according to analysts.

Maloney said Software AG will continue to work on COM ports to non-Microsoft operating systems. "Customers requested that Microsoft get involved to handle direct support," Maloney said. "The Software AG relationship is strong, and they will be heavily involved in future projects," he claims.

Another unanswered question is the role of The Open Group, the vendor consortium selected by Microsoft in September of 1996 to handle ActiveX and COM licensing issues. The organization was not mentioned as having a role in any of the licensing deals announced today.

Maloney claims the organization is simply another distribution channel for COM code. Davis, and other observers, claim that the deal with the Open Group is essentially meaningless.

"The Open Group is really a toothless body as far as ownership of COM and ActiveX," Davis said.

Maloney would not disclose the terms of the licensing deals with Silicon Graphics, Iona, or Digital. Microsoft also licenses COM source code to Software AG and to Hewlett-Packard.

Microsoft is expected to announce additional COM licensing deals in the coming months.