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July 6, 1993

COSE DELIVERS DESKTOP SPECS TO X/OPEN CO BUT IS IT ALL JUST A HOUSE OF CARDS?

By CBR Staff Writer

Although the Common Open Software Environment folks made good their promise to deliver a specification proposal for the common desktop system to X/Open Co Ltd last week, there was little new in terms of substance to what has gone before. The 100-page tome, now generally available from X/Open electronically or on paper, is intended only as a document for discussion and evaluation. No-one outside COSE itself will be writing code based on the specification, and development is unlikely to begin until early access kits start to appear around the time of the UniForum-hosted developers conference in San Jose in October. Some insiders say that even October will be too early, that only unstable pre-beta code will be around by that time, moreover that COSE firms ignored advice to move the event back to December.

Object features

More realistic time-scales for completed Common Desktop Environment implementations have also emerged: they foresee sample copies of the front-end from next March and full product releases a year thereafter. In the event, the COSE firms have moved a few points off their original 90% there 10% to do expectation, saying that around 80% of the overall project is now complete. Although 95% of the code itself used in Common Desktop was in existence before COSE began its task, the remaining 20% of the job is to complete what is needed to hang all the components together – non-trivial integration work, plus unspecified object features still under development and testing. There are between 200 and 300 engineers across the COSE firms working on Common Desktop at any one time. Once complete, COSE vendors will take away the same versions of a basic Common Desktop implementation and decide subsequently how and in what form they will configure and market it to users and independent software developers, bundled, unbundled or otherwise. The most recent Common Desktop reference implementation is built upon a widely-used source code tree mechanism and is up on eight different systems from four vendors, apparently not all of them COSE member firms. The COSE specification will go before X/Open’s desktop user requirements group which, chaired by Shell Oil, meets on July 12 in San Francisco, and then on to the standards body’s common desktop environment working group which meets over the following couple of days.

By William Fellows

X/Open says it will compare the specification with recommendations made by this and previous desktop user requirement meetings and take any proposed changes back to the COSE vendors, who say they’ll comply with whatever is required. X/Open’s specific concern is understood to be the inherent portability of the system, an issue the COSE firms say they are explicitly addressing. A final specification proposal based on the outcome of these meetings will be completed in time for the developers conference and submitted to X/Open’s fast track process. The COSE firms are each thought to have paid around $225,000 to get Common Desktop fast-tracked – each separate document costs an additional $23,000 to get processed. The only specification document that curently exists in such a form is Motif – that’s expected to take 18 months to clear the proceedings. With no formal organisation or marketing structure as such, the COSE vendors nevertheless believe that the collective support of their own marketing teams, plus those of independent software developers, developers, and the endorsement by X/Open and other partners will be enough to carry the common desktop environment to market. As to the COSE name itself rights to which are understood to already belong to an unidentified company – the vendors say the abbreviation of Common Open Software Environment to COSE wasn’t their doing, they never started it and that it was just a convenient moniker hung on their process by the industry and press corps at large. They’re now looking for another name. They know Common Open Software Environment is too unwieldy, and they’ve just got to hope that whatever they come up with will be sufficient to get COSE dropped, bec

ause they know how names tend to stick… It was an IBM Corp lawyer that discovered the trademark ownership and the COSE firms are now negotiating to get the company that has rights to it to give it up. Mind you, COSE’s bureaucracy is such that it took two weeks to get someone on to doing just that. Seems the aforementioned IBM suit was sharper than lawyers over at Kelley Drye & Waren who weren’t able to track down the COSE owner after trawling the US Patent & Trademark office, which it knows is two months behind what’s current: that assumes, of course, that the COSE trademark is registered in the US. IBM said publication of the name of the company wouldn’t help negotiations along. The vendors are also working on an all-singing, all-dancing name for the Common Desktop Environment too.

Common Desktop

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Although Oracle Corp already has a Common Desktop product, that can’t ever have figured as a realistic choice for the front-end technology. There is a list of possibles doing the rounds longer than your arm, apparently – which is being overseen by a naming committee. The Common Desktop Environment includes window management, in which a front panel provides the user with access to applications, devices and other objects. Desktop integration is provided via policies, formats and protocols for launching applications and handling cut and paste and drag and drop data exchange. There is an object-folder management system, including a file manager for creating, moving, copying, opening and deleting objects; editors for electronic mail, diaries, text and icons; and basic administration supporting application set-up, management of desktop resources, interapplication communication services and application programming interfaces and protocols for message passing. Some people even within its ranks have the same reservations about COSE that they had over the ill-fated Advanced Computing Environment: one told us please not to blow too hard on it because it’s just a house of cards.

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