ActiveX consortium on back burner

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 30 Aug 1996 18:01:20 -0400 (EDT)

August 29, 1996 7:15 PM ET
ActiveX consortium on back burner

By _Norvin Leach_

A month after Microsoft Corp. announced that it would turn over the
ActiveX and COM technologies to a customer-driven consortium, the
company has yet to settle on any plan to do so.

Microsoft officials still avow they will turn the technology over to
new keepers, but in the meantime they have canceled planned meetings
and press releases, and have failed to set a firm date or deadline.

The delay can be attributed mainly to the continued time needed to
gather feedback from customers about how to proceed and the launch of
Internet Explorer 3.0, said Tom Button, director of marketing for
Microsoft's Internet Platform and Tools Division.

However, sources inside and outside the Redmond, Wash., software
behemoth said internal arguments between different development groups
have also hampered the process.

Issues under discussion within Microsoft include the amount of
technology that should be turned over to the consortium, and the
makeup of the consortium itself, the sources said.

Initially, Microsoft announced that it would form a committee of users
and developers and turn the technology over to them. Microsoft would
submit enhancements to the technology, but would only hold one vote in
the committee.

Earlier this month, however, Microsoft Vice President Steve Ballmer
said the creation of a consortium was only an option. He said the
technology could be turned over to an existing group such as the
Internet Engineering Task Force.

Both choices have their drawbacks.

"They have two choices-turn it over to something along the lines of
the Winsock Group or turn it over to an existing standards body," said
Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group, in Midvale, Utah.

"If they create a group to handle something as core to Microsoft as
COM [Component Object Model], that group could be viewed as a puppet
organization. An existing standards body would have more credibility,
but it could mean loss of control and ability to innovate," Lewis

Lewis, who was asked to help out with the first meeting by moderating
discussions among the parties, said he was convinced the meeting would
take place eventually.

"We will leave it up to our customers to decide whether we set up
something independent," said Microsoft's Button.

"As long as Microsoft doesn't let development slow down, then turning
ActiveX over to a standards body has got to be a plus-it gives it more
legitimacy and almost guarantees that the technology will be
ubiquitous," said Carl Carrie, vice president of trading and
technology research at Tullet & Tokyo Forex Inc., a New York-based
money broker.

One potential benefit of choosing an independent standard is that it
could attract more companies to ActiveX and away from other
technologies, such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java Beans object

One possible group to take over the technology is the Object
Management Group, since it sets standards for object-oriented systems.

However, Microsoft officials have said privately that they are afraid
that ActiveX and COM would be watered down or wiped out by the OMG,
since it has spent so much time building the rival Common Object
Request Broker Architecture.

Officials of the OMG, along with officials of IBM, Sun, and Netscape
Communications Corp., have said they plan to attend whatever meetings
Microsoft sets up.

Meanwhile, rumors persist that the true reason for turning over
ActiveX and COM to a standards body is the question of ownership of
the core technology.

Earlier this year, the courts lifted restrictions on how IBM owned and
shared its patents. Among these patents is technology for exchanging
data across applications. Microsoft used this technology to build DDE
(Dynamic Data Exchange), which eventually evolved into OLE.

Neither Microsoft nor IBM has commented on the question of technology
ownership, other than to say that it is not an issue.

However, several sources indicate that it is a continual concern
inside Microsoft and may have led to the decision to turn over ActiveX
and COM.

Microsoft denied this claim.

Additional reporting by Michael Moeller