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January 14, 1998

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE ACTIVE GROUP?

By CBR Staff Writer

In July 1996 Microsoft Corp scored a publicity coup by announcing its intent to turn the Windows ActiveX component object technologies, including COM and Distributed COM over to a multi- vendor industry group which would help define future versions of the architecture (CI No 2,965). Where images of Siberian salt mines should have come to mind the industry and press corps devoted much time and acres of ink to Redmond’s astonishing gesture. In fact the purpose of the Microsoft-lead Active Group, it emerged later, was simply to get DCOM up on multiple Unix operating systems to provide the essential connections between Microsoft desktops and servers running Unix, Distributed Computing Environment and OMG Corba object technologies. To lend the initiative credence in the open systems community The Open Group standards organization agreed to develop an ActiveX-on-Unix specification and a source code reference implementation based upon Microsoft’s core technologies, and make them available to the industry along with testing and branding services. TOG presumably thought that getting Microsoft into its bed would lend it some credibility having recently been spawned from the enjoining of standards group X/Open Co Ltd with alternative Unix development consortium Open Software Foundation. Key Active Group members DEC, Hewlett-Packard Co and Siemens Nixdorf Information Systems are also sponsors of The Open Group’s ACD ActiveX Core Technologies/DCE Interoperability project which had promised a reference implementation of DCOM by the end of last year. It now says it will have DCOM code for DEC Unix and Sun Solaris available sometime this year. Although The Open Group could ultimately provide Microsoft with a path toward some kind of de jure standardization for ActiveX through ISO, Redmond maintains that has never been a specific goal. Like other DCOM-on-Unix developers, Open Group’s efforts have supposedly been pushed out because Microsoft has not yet described a new security model which DCOM will be able to take advantage of when implemented on Windows NT 5.0. Although not tied to Microsoft’s NT 5.0 release – now slated for sometime in the second half of next year – the DCOM-on-Unix developers, including The Open Group, are waiting for Microsoft to announce exactly what kind of Kerberos-alike, Unix-style security mechanism will co-exist with NT 4.x’s current domains security framework in the 5.0 release, a second beta of which is due in April. Microsoft has so far provided one drop of DCOM code – derived from Software AG’s DCOM-for-Solaris port – to the Open Group and its other DCOM-on-Unix partners. Calls to the Microsoft executive responsible for Active Group were not returned while other DCOM-on-Unix interests wonder whether the whole Active Group affair isn’t just disappearing in a puff of smoke.

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