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cactus Mail Starting 7/10/98

From: psnively@rdoor.com (Paul Snively);
Sent at Fri, 10 Jul 1998 07:47:08 -0700;

Regarding DataChannel and "web-enabled" technology, I think we first need to clarify what we mean by that. Mr. Pool said:

"I don't think there's a real competitor to WebBroker, because you can implement COM and CORBA without it, it's just not Web-enabled. So, I don't see WebBroker having a competitor, per se. And on the data-integration side, you can look at Netscape. They're trying to Web-enable everything, and we're trying to XML-enable everything."

I see two problems with this that I don't think have been addressed by anyone. First, the idea that CORBA isn't "web-enabled" is simply not true in practice: both Inprise's Visibroker and Iona's OrbixWeb CORBA products function just fine over the web. As I write this, my company is developing a three-tiered client/server financial application using NetDynamics, which in turn uses Visibroker. Among the things that happens as part of this application is that the clients talk to the application server using CORBA IIOP. The connection is SSL encrypted, and in order to deal with firewall issues, Visibroker has a component galled the "gatekeeper" that effectively serves as a proxy server and wire protocol multiplexer/demultiplexer by sitting on port 80 and dealing both with the HTTP packets and the IIOP packets.

Netscape's current products all have Visibroker support built into them, so web-enabled CORBA support for Netscape browsers is relatively easy. For MSIE, Visibroker support is downloaded or installed as part of the client software. Iona's OrbixWeb products work in a similar fashion, with one notable difference: they have an entire firewall product, Wonderwall, that is IIOP-aware, so there can be an essentially arbitrary number of IIOP connections to an arbitrary number of ports, rather than directing everything through the HTTP server port. This seems like it could be a big scalability win, assuming that you can convince the IS department to switch to an IIOP-aware firewall.

Second, "they're trying to Web-enable everything, and we're trying to XML-enable everything" makes it sound as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive, which they're obviously not. For example, if you have an XML parser and an HTML DTD and some means of interpreting it, then the basis of your browser can effectively be XML, and your HTML support can be characterized as "an application of XML." Similarly, of course--and traditionally, at least so far--you can download something to your browser--a Java applet, an ActiveX control, a plug-in--that includes an XML parser and does cool stuff with any XML it receives.

It's also a bizarre statement because it distances DataChannel from the Web instead of expressing how DataChannel integrates with and extends the Web as we know it. I think what Mr. Pool intended to do was to differentiate his company from Netscape, but it sounds to me like he overidentified the Web with Netscape.

The bottom line is that I think XML presents some unique opportunities for coopetition, but that probably can't happen until the various organizations involved get a lot more clear as to what their business models, technology models, and terminology are. As I've written before, the greater the level of abstraction (e.g., XML being a metalanguage used to implement markup languages, like its parent SGML) inherent in the technology, the harder this is to do.

Keep diggin'!

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