The extension and support of this technology to platforms such as UNIX would mean potentially that you could work in a similar manner across the whole spectrum of enterprise computing. It would be conceivable that you could access UNIX based well construction software, reservoir simulation, or anything likely to provide relevant data, from a spreadsheet in the finance department. More probably, the enterprise computing system would be configured so that the relevant data and tools were hard-wired together through the middleware so that your data would be computed and maintained on the fly.
On a more general level, interoperability through COM would provide a credible alternative to the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) offerings from the Object Management Group (OMG) which have been slow in getting off the ground. The focus of interoperating with Microsoft Windows is also highly relevant for a company such as Landmark Graphics Corp. whose product line spans both the Windows environment and UNIX. This fact was underscored in a communication from Landmark's John Gibson, executive vice president of Integrated Products who stated "Landmark applauds Microsoft's commitment to COM interoperability. Consistent, cross-platform COM implementations will enable independent software vendors, systems integrators and industry standards organizations to create a new era of enterprise-level solutions integrating business and technical applications, based on Windows and UNIX."
To date most interoperability efforts - such as the recent POSC Interoperability RFT and the Open Spirit initiative (PDM Vol. 2 N° 12) have focussed on the CORBA side of the business, with interoperability with Microsoft's environment usually an afterthought. Turning the traditional approach on its head, Microsoft have teamed up with CORBA providers Iona Technologies PLC. Iona is one of the first licensees of COM and will be providing interoperability with their Orbix implementation of CORBA. In a simultaneous announcement Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) have licensed COM for its IRIX systems. Other IT organizations jumping on the bandwagon include Software AG who is supporting COM on MVS, IBM's Mainframe Operating System. Leading systems integrators Andersen Consulting, Electronic Data Systems Corp.(EDS), KPMG and Vanstar Corp. also said they would support COM across their customers' mixed-platform environments.
Try it yourself
Finally, a suggestion. If you have Microsoft Office installed on your system you can try out some of this technology for yourself. Try inserting an Excel spreadsheet into a Word document (Insert - Object), then editing it and printing the resulting document. This is not exactly distributed computing, but is a best case test of COM technology - components from one supplier operating on a single system. You may find some aspects of your test very positive, you may also unfortunately find that this test of software interoperability under optimal conditions shows some weaknesses. Editing in Excel may not quite produce the results you expected in Word. System resources in Windows 95 may get gobbled up rather quickly and - we have to say this, the whole thing has been known to fall over completely. Distributed COM is here to stay and will probably eat up a whole chunk of the marketplace, but that should not stop Microsoft from dotting a few i's and crossing some t's in both their operating system and COM code to make this thing work better and to make them work all the time.
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