OpenDoc: Dead or Alive?

All three object component architectures are real. Are they all relevant?

CORBA occupies the high end, in several senses. For one thing, even though there are few working applications, CORBA now dominates the Unix server market for object middleware and will for some time to come. On the desktop, the popularity of Microsoft's operating systems and applications has made its OLE technology a de facto standard. Who, then, needs OpenDoc?

Observers and analysts think the answer is not many people, despite the efforts of its original backers--a consortium including Apple Computer, IBM, Lotus Development and Novell--and superior technology. "OpenDoc is an option at the desktop that is probably more functional, but ISVs will probably be more interested in OLE," says Steve McClure of IDC, because of Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.

Alexis de Planque of Meta Group is more blunt. "OpenDoc is dead," she says.

Frank Mara, vice president of sales and marketing for CI Labs, the Sunnyvale, CA-based organization that is developing and licensing OpenDoc source code to the industry, believes that its technology is misunderstood by analysts and the press. "OpenDoc and CORBA together are a client/server model," he says. "OLE/COM is not."

CI Labs has some points in its favor. For one thing, despite the problems Apple and other original backers have had, the consortium today has over 300 members around the world. It also has more than one million lines of source code for the various OpenDoc components, which anyone can purchase for $350. OLE continues to be a Windows-only technology, but OpenDoc supports multiple desktop platforms. Finally, going with OpenDoc doesn't exclude OLE; the technology interoperates with OLE using the OLE Automation mechanism.

"For a distributed component model to win, it has to be platform-independent," Mara says. "One company can't control how this evolves. You have to give licensees room to innovate and add value."

OMG's recent endorsement also adds credibility. Chris Stone, OMG president, contends OpenDoc is "very relevant. People want to build distributed components, either intranet- or Internet-based, that they can register across multiple platforms."

OMG is adopting the OpenDoc APIs to insure CORBA interoperability with the desktop but also (and perhaps more importantly) to ensure access to distributed services, such as security, naming, events and others OpenDoc provides. "This is distributed computing with components," says Stone.

Those arguments, analysts say, don't reflect the reality of the object middleware marketplace today. For instance, the Meta Group's AIM service provides IT advisory services to large user organizations. As part of that service, it regularly polls its customers and other user organizations on their object middleware plans. "We don't see any of our end-user customers talking about using OpenDoc," says de Planque.

At the least, CI Labs faces a serious selling job, which it is trying to do by making the public aware of its Distributed Component Software Architecture (DCSA), an overall model that includes OpenDoc and CORBA. It is intended, among other things, to enable management of Internet applications by object middleware. "OLE/COM without distributed functionality is a nonstarter on the Net," says Mara. "Java is instant technology, not a whole solution for distributed computing. DCSA does deliver it."