At the keynote speech kicking off Microsoft's TechEd '97 conference in Florida recently, company chairman and CEO Bill Gates positioned Windows as the cornerstone of distributed computing.
Speaking to 15,000 developers, Gates sketched a future where Windows - and Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) architecture in particular - become the infrastructure for a new breed of distributed, component-based applications to bring information from any type of data store to dispersed users throughout a corporation.
"We're taking leadership in distributed computing," Gates said. "By taking COM to a whole new level, we let you leverage the infrastructure like never before."
The new age of distributed computing puts renewed emphasis on the Windows operating system, which will provide needed services such as transactions, security, and message queuing, he said. The new applications will be lightweight, self-managing and pulled together from existing components.
"Now there is a new platform competition going on and this is over distributed applications," Gates said.
"The operating system is going to have to do a lot to make it easy to build these applications," Gates said. "And COM plays a fundamental role, it connects all computing devices up to business applications."
Gates stressed that in this distributed computing environment, all existing tools and languages, including Java, will be brought into the fold so that existing programs can be leveraged.
"We do think Java is quite important and we're doing the leading work to make it debuggable, to make it native-code compilable and to allow you to continue to work with your existing code and to fit into the Windows environment," Gates added.
Given Microsoft's track record, however, one attendee doubted the company's willingness to build a truly open environment.
"I struggle with Gates' statement of commitment to open standards," said IT analyst Lyle Erickson. "His history of being proprietary makes me sceptical."
In support of Gates' commitment to openness, the company has announced that Digital Equipment Corp and Hewlett-Packard will include COM in their next operating system releases. [See sidebar "Microsoft unveils new server, touts NT's future."] Digital will integrate COM into Digital Unix and OpenVMS by year's end, while HP committed to including the specification in HP/UX within a year.
"I'm interested in COM being supported by Digital," said a systems architect. "We have a lot of Digital VMS machines and thousands of users on them so with COM we can bring these users forward without having to clearcut and reseed everything. But he makes it sound easy and you never know how these things are going to play out."
Also, the versions of COM for Solaris and MVS that Microsoft farmed out to partner Software AG to develop will be commercially available in the next few months, Gates said.
"COM is much bigger than Windows; code using COM can run on the Macintosh and Unix," Gates said. "We're porting COM to non-Windows platforms to provide a common backbone to make it easier for systems to coexist."
In an unspecified future release of COM, Gates said that Microsoft will improve run-time services and add debugging, garbage collection, native code support, and persistence.
"I find it ironic that in the year where Windows has become pre-eminent, we are investing more in interoperability with other systems than ever before," Gates said.
Microsoft also announced that software providing two key services, Microsoft's Transaction Server and Message Queue Server, will be included in the core services of Windows NT. The Transaction Server will be incorporated into NT Server 4.0 during the third quarter, and into NT Workstation and Windows 95 in early fourth quarter, a Microsoft official said. MSQ, currently in beta, will be included in NT and Windows 95 once it is in general release later this year.
In addition, COM to CICS integration tech- nology, code-named Cedar, will be included in NT beginning in the third quarter. In addition, a Cedar developers kit will be available in Q3.