Public Windows Interface Effort Pushes Ahead

Microsoft sends envoy to PWI meeting in Scotland

The SunSelect subsidiary of Sun Microsystems and other companies are pushing ahead with their plan to develop a Public Windows Interface (PWI).

PWI is an attempt, launched by Sun and the former UNIX System Laboratories (now Novell) to pressure Microsoft to release the Windows application programming interface (API) to the public domain.

The effort to secure industry-wide support for a PWI specification was officially launched earlier this month at the Windows of Opportunity conference at Perthshire, Scotland. A PWI Specification Committee has already begun work on generating industry consensus on the contents of that specification. The committee has begun putting the document together and has said it will be submitted to standards bodies X/Open Co. and the European Computer Manufacturers' Association during the first half of this year.

Microsoft is not participating in the effort, but SunSelect's Kate Margolese, strategic marketing manager, said she sees encouraging signs from the software giant. For the first time at the conference in Scotland, Microsoft sent a spokesperson - Nigel Burton, manager of the solutions developer group for Microsoft UK - to an open PWI forum. "We did feel like progress was made there," Margolese said. "Microsoft recognizes that they need to better document their API - they were very clear about that. While they didn't relinquish control of the API, we felt like this forum began the direct communication with Microsoft. There was movement toward the world of open standards."

The event was sponsored by SunSelect, the PC connectivity arm of Sun Microsystems, and the Forum for Open Systems at Scottish Enterprise, with support from Novell and the European Commission.

Sun announced the beginning of PWI last May with its Wabi software implementation that allows UNIX systems to run Microsoft Windows applications outside of Windows itself. Wabi remaps the Windows API onto the X Window System, enabling the Windows applications to access the UNIX file system and bypass the DOS file system that underlies Windows. Wabi was jointly developed by SunSelect and Novell (then USL) and is on the market today. Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Novell have also announced they will ship Wabi products.

PWI is a much broader effort involving support from more companies. When completed, the PWI specification would ensure that any application intended to run on Microsoft Windows will also run on any PWI-compliant desktop - no matter which vendor supplies the hardware or software. Because the PWI specification would be transferred to a recognized standards body, any systems vendor, developer or user would be able to get a copy and, without paying a royalty, create a new implementation.

With PWI, developers would have their choice between writing one application and simply recompiling it for different platforms, or running the same binary version across different platforms. PWI would allow the same application to run on everything from a supercomputer to a personal digital assistant. As a result, ISVs could spend less time porting their applications to different operating systems and more time creating new functionality.

Speakers at the conference noted the importance, especially to independent software vendors (ISVs) and end users, of avoiding a lock-in of control by one vendor. "The ISVs are looking for a level playing field and they want to be able to maintain compatibility across future releases of their products," Margolese said. "End users want to avoid lock-in and understand, having seen lock-in in the past from IBM and AT&T, they feel lock-in can stifle innovation."

According to Margolese, Burton of Microsoft made it clear that Microsoft did not want to release control of the Windows API and talked about the market power of Windows with its 40 million copies sold. "We respect that power," said Margolese. "That is why we feel it should be an open standard, because so many people are dependent on it."

Latest to announce their support for PWI are Amdahl Corp., the ASK Group, Oracle Corp., Scottish Enterprise and the Australian company Cybersource. They join American Airlines, Borland International, Corel Corp., the Foxboro Group, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, ICL, Locus Computing Systems, Quarterdeck Office Systems, the Santa Cruz Operation, Sun Microsystems, Tadpole Technology, Novell's UNIX Systems Group and WordPerfect Corp.