Open Group Addresses Its Internet Role

Netscape and Open Group agree and disagree

The Open Group held its regular membership meeting Sept. 9-13 in Vienna, VA, near Washington, DC. Some 275 vendors, customers and ISVs attended, many of them eager to meet and hear from Joseph DeFeo, the new CEO of The Open Group (see "Open Group Names Joseph De Feo as CEO" in this issue ofUniNews online).

The standard meeting schedule was followed: the Vendor, Customer and Software Councils held meetings, along with working sessions from the Program and Task Forces. These sessions cover the areas of primary interest and research done at The Open Group and include security, distributed systems management, interoperability, architecture, DCE, the desktop and the information superhighway. This last session drew the most interest, as it was the topic of an Information Plenary with six presentations from representatives at organizations such as MasterCard International, the National Information Infrastructure Testbed (NIIT, which is being renamed InfoTest), ANSI and Netscape Communications.

Netscape's presentation produced the most heat, and Netscape's standards director, Carl Cargill, was his usual provocative self. (Readers of UniForum's IT Solutions know to look for his bimonthly column, "Standards & Technology.") Cargill, who recently left Sun Microsystems for which he was active with The Open Group, was in the interesting position of knowing The Open Group's strengths and how his new company perceived their weaknesses. He noted that The Open Group's areas of expertise differ from Netscape's; for example, Netscape doesn't "do" operating systems, or DCE or CDE. Cargill asserted that The Open Group's technology development processes (such as the Prestructured Technologies) are "heavyweight" and too slow for a company that deals in "Web time."

He also made the point that Netscape prefers to work through bodies such as the IETF and the W3C, which he said "owns" Web specifications and operates comfortably in Web time. Cargill's pronouncements provoked fervent responses from some in the audience who challenged his observation that Netscape and The Open Group are not on similar wavelengths. An audience member said that a "fast-track" technology development process is in place at The Open Group; another made it plain that his company was not delighted with a Netscape standards path that did not include the branding qualifications offered by The Open Group; and a third questioned the lack of critical mass present in a group like IETF, which is not incorporated and lacks status as an international standards body.

"Past failures in the development of standards for the Internet and Web are irrelevant because change is pervasive."

Cargill's message did include some unchallenged observations. Past failures in the development of standards for the Internet and Web are irrelevant, he said, because change is pervasive and development time is now compressed into months and even weeks. Standards to an organization like Netscape are important because there is a financial incentive, namely that customers want and expect them. The need, he said, is to build consensus on standards quickly, not to compete or fight in an endless series of committee meetings. He urged his audience to recognize the reality that tens of thousands of Netscape downloads mean acceptance by customers-the ultimate litmus test of a de facto standard. His conclusion was that there were important areas where The Open Group and Netscape shared interests, but they diverge on the questions of timing and implementation. It may remain for The Open Group's Information Superhighway Task Force to convince Netscape that it will be better served by becoming an active member of the organization.

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