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  1. Technology
March 26, 1996


By CBR Staff Writer

Republished from ClieNT Server News, a sister publication

Microsoft last week described how it plans to move lock, stock and barrel to the Internet, unveiling a grand marketing framework called ActiveX, decided on a few weeks ago, that embraces just about everything Redmond’s either got out today or has in the labs from BackOffice through to development tools and the smallest application and applet. ActiveX is meant to solve Redmond’s credibility problem over the Internet, by far the most potent force ever to hit the computer industry. In the course of its four-day Professional Developer’s Conference in San Francisco Microsoft ditched the term OLE and moved to destroy the market for standalone browsers with a project it calls Nashville. It also jettisoned its whole GUI concept in favor of extended HTML and hyperlinks.

By Stuart Zipper

Sun’s sinister Java threat was also corraled and boxed up as one of a string of ActiveX development tools. Microsoft finally signed its pending Java license with Sun Microsystems in the wee hours right before the conference kicked off but interestingly enough – since it suggests they’ve been working together all along – Microsoft already had mock-ups of a thing it’s dubbed Jakarta, its code name for the Java development kit it’s going to sell. According to the deal, Microsoft will maintain the Java reference model for Windows; Sun gets the source code back and can resell it. More importantly, Microsoft whispered that the whole of the Sun-Microsoft deal has yet to be revealed. Sources said they were under NDA as to the particulars but suggested that some of the other terms, reportedly damaging to Netscape, would be made public in 30 days, when Jakarta goes to beta. Sun (and Oracle along with it) have been reported to have private misgivings about Netscape and its potential for proprietizing Internet APIs.


Sun may now be using one monopoly to ward off another. As ear as we can figure out, Sun and Microsoft, as unlikely a pairing as ever there was, might put Netscape in its place by having Microsoft tear a page out of Sun’s open book and release the Java-on-Windows APIs for all and sundry to use. The move, which was always in the cards and will let a Java applet written with Jakarta run on anybody’s browser, even Netscape’s, might be played to show Netscape up as a proprietary shop and potential monopoly because Netscape locks in Java applets to its own browser and server. Redmond, however, has arranged it so that anything that meets ActiveX standards will run on Netscape browsers using an ActiveX plug-in for Netscape Navigator that Microsoft helped nCompass Labs Inc develop. A seemingly magnanimous gesture, it’s actually an attempt to drive a stake through Netscape’s heart.

Code name

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Ironically, Redmond could wind up looking the good guy in the on- going debates over the potent issue of what’s open these days. Microsoft’s more direct assault on Netscape last week centered on making the browser market go away by the simple expedient of building the browser right into the operating system, in this case both NT and Windows 95. Microsoft has created a project called Nashville, a recycled code name that used to apply to the defunct Windows 96, that will replace the Windows 95/NT 4.0 Explorer interface with Microsoft’s Internet browser also called Explorer. It will let users explore their computer as if it was an Internet site, then jump to the real Internet at will. In demos of a Nashville alpha Microsoft had it do some new tricks such as querying an Internet site for changes first to let users decide whether or not to hyperlink. The details show up in the tip box hitherto reserved for static messages like what a given button does. The Nashville interface, which is supposed to be productized by the end of the year, will be a refined version of Internet Explorer 3.0, released to beta last week. Also sent to beta at the same time was the long-awaited Network OLE, only it isn’t OLE anymore. It’s Distributed COM or DC

OM now and can launch applications on a remote machine via the Internet as well as over a corporate LAN, the original plan way back before Redmond discovered the Internet. The plan also includes turning both NT and Win95 into Internet pseudo-servers with a peer-to- peer scheme. They won’t be servers in the classic sense, but they will show up on a corporate Internet/intranet link as HTML pages that look like they came from a server. The feature may not show up until Cairo which, Microsoft insisted last week, is still a 1997 product. That, of course, remains to be seen given its track record. So does Nashville’s arrival later this year come to think of it. Memphis, the successor to Windows 95, is also still targeted for 1997. Same caveat applies. The ActiveX story includes a set of new APIs for BackOffice applications development, a project for later this year, and a digital signature scheme to insure that software distributed via Internet is from a reliable source and hopefully virus-free. Military electronics specialists should recognize the concept from the secure path technology required for the top-level B-3 security rating. In sum, ActiveX technology encompasses so much – (it took Microsoft 14 press releases to try to explain it) – that it’s best looked at not as a product but as positioning. At its simplest, the word active is meant to describe the transition from static HTML pages to active technology that covers everything from multimedia (streaming video and sound from a project code named Bengal, are in) to creating Web pages on-the- fly in response to a browser query.

ACTIVEX SDK released

Microsoft last week began distributing an SDK for ActiveX, or at least the parts of it that are ready. The SDK, which includes 600MB of code, was given out at the Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco and should soon be in the mail to all subscribers to the Microsoft Developer’s Network. The CD didn’t even make it in time for the start of the PDC as Microsoft CD duplicators worked overtime to get enough copies pressed before everyone went home. Besides the SDK itself the CD holds a copy of IIS, sample applications, help files, NT 3.51 updates to support IIS and a copy of the Explorer 3.0 beta. It can be bought separately for $40 starting next month. * Redmond had companies by the score last week pledging products based on future ActiveX technology. Most said that whatever they have to sell now is already ActiveX- compatible, since anything that’s OLE automatically becomes part of ActiveX. We stopped counting the pledges, promises and even real products when they passed 100 and still kept flowing out of the Moscone Center. Apple co-founder-turned- NeXT chief Steve Jobs showed up to announce he has the best tools to develop ActiveX apps. He walked out on stage during Microsoft Group VP Paul Maritz’ opening keynote last week, looked at the sea of almost 5,000 Windows developers, and said: This is really weird. We’re all here together. Spyglass gets the right to make ActiveX work on Unix. Macromedia will do the same for the Mac. * Microsoft’s plans to bring BackOffice into the ActiveX fold include ActiveX Server Scripting and ActiveX Server Controls, which meld into the ActiveX Server Framework based on IIS. The Server Controls are building blocks for server- driven content to create interactive server apps. The Server Framework, which goes to beta this summer, extends its reach to legacy systems via BackOffice components such as SNA Server. That means data on old IBM mainframes can appear on the newest interactive HTML pages on the Web via Backoffice. The server scripts that make it work can be written in Visual Basic Script, PERL, JavaScript et al. * Just in case it’s not crystal clear, Nashville, Microsoft’s recycled name for the project to turn NT Workstation and Win95 into Internet operating systems, is based on Explorer 3.0 browser technology that will become the new GUI for everything the OSes do. The objects out of which Explorer 3.0 is built replace the code inside Windows that now d

efines what appears on the screen. Nashville uses what Bill Gates calls extended HTML to convert everything that appears on the screen into an HTML page which is then read by Explorer. For instance, a directory of files on a local drive appears as a list of hyperlinked icons. The files are accessed as if they were somewhere on the Internet rather than the drive. The file list can also include listings of files on other systems. They are accessed via the Internet or intranet. The same concept extends to every other function on a PC and it’s transparent to the user, who’s simply browsing. The distinction between what’s local and what’s on the net goes away. The browser is always active, as the primary GUI for the whole system, and Internet access is always just a mouse click away. Creating customized GUIs for Windows or an app is simply an exercise in HTML authoring. At the ultimate a Java applet can be embedded in the HTML page that serves as the primary NT GUI exactly as it’s embedded in a Web site home page, maybe authored using Jakarta or JavaScript.

Copyright ClieNT Server News, G2 Computer Intelligence, Glenhead, Long Island

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