EVERY FEW years in the IT business, there is an architectural revolution that re-defines the marketplace.
Minicomputers did it in the 1970s. PCs did it in the 1980s and spawned a sophisticated reseller channel along the way.
Object-oriented software will do it in the 1990s.
To understand the dimensions of this revolution is to appreciate the way software has been written for decades - from the ground up for each new application.
It's why software development has been such a lengthy process. By the time you'd fully specified user requirements and then considered presentation, rules systems, I/O and error management, interlacing with other systems, housekeeping tools, auditing, security, change management and then built all the modules and the interfaces between them, you were facing a serious development cycle.
Naturally, before completion, the user specs changed and enormous amounts of code had to be rewritten.
In the 1980s, software engineers began to kick around a new way of programming that involved the development of standard interfaces for communications between modules.
Under this concept - dubbed Object-Oriented Programming - developers would be able to buy an off-the-shelf module or have a standards-based module built to their requirements. Projects would unfold faster and more efficiently.
Like most new technologies, not much happened. There were a number of competing standards. Most folks were stuck with "ground up" legacy apps. And 16-bit, single thread operating systems didn't have enough grunt to do the job properly anyway.
None of this stopped the rapid development of device drivers in the PC world which were the first true objects to drop into Windows applications.
And then a few years ago, with Microsoft Windows NT and more recently Windows 95, the game changed.
Now there is a 32-bit, multitasking development platform with an object "standard" from Microsoft called ActiveX.
ActiveX is so important to Microsoft that it ranks right up there with the Internet and Back Office as the three battles they say they absolutely have to win.
The object specs nail down standards for interfacing and porting together with methodologies for inserting objects into "metaphors" which are actually custom user applications built from objects in other applications.
The implications of ActiveX are so powerful that it is the single most potent argument for migrating to Windows 95 at all.
Imagine building a custom object application that automatically reached out to corporate data sources (including legacy data), and then inserted the data into an application built by you, uniquely for your environment.
Object-oriented technology increases the power of users over the data they need to manipulate by fusing the application and the data as one.
It will change the software development industry because it will enable developers to concentrate on the bits that represent their specialist expertise rather than the dreary and repetitive process of building everything from the ground up.
It is also certain to create a marketplace for selling objects themselves. A software house producing an accounting package will buy router interface, graphics and video objects, for example, rather than developing these modules from scratch.
But how are objects to be priced and what will the marketplace for object transactions look like?
Interestingly, one of the first object sales in the world has just occurred between Wall Data and AS/400 software developer, J D Edwards, for an undisclosed price. This particular deal was done vendor to vendor. But is that the way the object market will develop? Or will we see the development of a middle layer of brokers and object resellers?
No one truly knows the answers to these questions yet. Most pundits seem to agree, however, that object technologies will replace "ground up" software because object development is inherently faster, cheaper and easier.
And now that Microsoft has joined the object bandwagon, it seems likely the concept has finally come of commercial age.
As soon as the market figures out the true power of this approach then ActiveX object- oriented programming will become a required standard - dragging Windows 95/NT across the corporate desktop just as they planned all along.
And smart resellers will come to grips with the object world so they can figure out how to make the most from this intriguing, new technology direction.