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MS: COM+, DNA, IE 4 will dominate

At its Professional Developers Conference today, Microsoft touted its COM+ framework and debuted its umbrella Windows "DNA" architecture. The giant also predicted IE 4.0?s dominance in the browser wars.

    SAN DIEGO--One week before the commercial launch of Internet Explorer 4.0, Microsoft (MSFT) group vice president of applications and platforms Paul Maritz opened the company's Professional Developer Conference here today by predicting the new browser would carry Microsoft past Netscape Communications (NSCP) in browser share.

    "We believe that this release is the one that takes us over 50 percent market share in the U.S.," Maritz said.

    Internet Explorer now has approximately 30 percent of browser share, he claimed. Netscape claims to have about 70 percent.

    Maritz placed IE 4.0 as one of the cornerstones in the framework of the next generation of Windows, in which developers would move away from the traditional "three-tiered" application model toward Web interfaces and a component model. Maritz emphasized the need for developers to use components, prebuilt units of reusable software that many companies have been trying to bring to mainstream programming for several years. Instead of writing code from scratch, developers can modify and use a prebuilt component.

    To make components work together and talk to each other, however, you need an overall architecture that glues them together. Microsoft is touting its existing Windows framework, called COM, or "component object model."

    The company today rechristened COM as COM+, and said the architecture will be extended with additional infrastructure enhancements to make building cross-platform applications easier, for both corporate developers and software vendors, using any development language.

    COM+ will be delivered as part of upcoming releases of Windows. Microsoft said a prerelease version of COM+ for developers will ship by year's end.

    "The pervasive use of the COM object model will allow us to plug all these pieces together," Maritz said.

    Microsoft's rivals, including Sun Microsystems, Netscape, and Novell, have criticized COM as a Windows-only technology that's incompatible with Internet standards. These companies are instead pushing CORBA, or the common object request broker architecture, which its proponents want to align closely with Java. Netscape's Marc Andreessen recently predicted that Microsoft would drop COM and move to support CORBA by 1999.

    To bolster COM support, enterprise software makers Baan, SAP, and PeopleSoft said today they would support COM in its products. Baan also said it will work jointly on several development projects with Microsoft.

    One industry observer thinks Microsoft is well-positioned to push COM forward to its developer base.

    "COM is reasonably well-trusted and well-understood among Windows developers," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of technology consultancy Gyroscope. "It's been stable enough to use for a couple of years, and it has lost that OLE stigma."

    OLE, or object linking and embedding, was Microsoft's previous attempt to build a component architecture around the same time Apple Computer and IBM were developing OpenDoc. It was far too complex, however, and didn't go over well in the developer community, Somogyi said.

    Microsoft also debuted the Windows Distributed interNet Applications (DNA) architecture, a new overarching name for existing and future Windows technologies, such as COM, reworked to be more Web-aware.

    Microsoft said last week that Windows 98 would be delayed until the second quarter of 1998, fueling speculation that the next generation of Windows NT, Redmond's enterprise operating system, would be pushed back to 1999. Nonetheless, the company is putting the first beta of NT 5.0 into developers' hands this week, and a road map that Maritz displayed during his talk placed NT 5.0 as shipping next year.

    On the Web development side, the presentation highlighted the various technologies supported in IE 4.0 to help developers build Web-based applications. As is Microsoft's recent strategy, he praised Java as a programming language but criticized its development toward a full-blown computing platform, which Microsoft sees as a threat to its Windows franchise.

    Maritz's description of Java is ironically analogous to the development of Windows on top of DOS: "As Java services expand, pretty soon you've got an operating system on top of an operating system, and developers have to be careful they don't cut themselves off from advances in the underlying operating system."

    He also downplayed Java's "write-once, run-anywhere" promise.

    "We have [our own] strategy of writing applications that reach a wide variety of people" on a variety of platforms, he said. He instead recommended extensions to HTML such as dynamic HTML and XML (extensible markup language), and components, dubbed "scriptlets," that can be shared across several Web pages.

    "Let's leverage what's already there," Maritz said.