Components collaborate – on Internet – Internet/Web/Online Service Information

Components collaborate – on Internet – Internet/Web/Online Service Information – Brief Article

George Lawton

Software components have been around for over a decade and have been gaining in use thanks to their connection to the popular Windows platform. But problems can arise when applications call for components to be moved from place to place at a moment’s notice –as in today’s Internet applications.

Traditional component models, such as OLE and OpenDoc, tend to be client-centric and hardwired to specific operating systems. The Internet, which promises to make it easier to distribute components, necessitates that they work on a variety of platforms, from network computers to high-end workstations.

“Given the current clients, there have been only two models that have emerged as the right reuse models for components. One is the compound document model, where you embed something in a spreadsheet, and the other is where you have controls on a builder palette that a programmer uses in an application,” says Jeff Bonar, technical leader for IBM’s Object Technology Product Group in Austin, Texas.

Bonar envisions a variety of applications for components on the Internet. Workgroups could use them for collaborative virtual reality to visualize new products or strategies. Or they could be embedded within applications created by trading partners. For example, a credit card company might create a credit authorization component, which a retailer could use to process cards for its ordering system.

Randy Schnier, an advisory engineer at IBM’s labs in Rochester, Minn., predicts that people will soon mix and match components that will feed each other information. For example, if a customer is applying for a loan, he may go to his bank’s Web site to download an application that computes his net worth based on the bank’s data. It would then feed this information into another component that processes the loan.

For this to work, components must be platform-independent. “It makes it a lot easier if these components are downloadable and can be run on any platform so the bank does not have to know what kind of Web browser you have,” says Schnier. “Secondly, the browsers have to evolve to support component interactions. That would allow two applications to transfer information to each other under the covers. The components from different vendors have to be able to communicate with each other.” Schnier believes vendors such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems will cooperate when it comes to enabling component communications because they stand to reap significant financial gains.

JavaBeans, the fruit of Sun’s JavaSoft facility, is designed to create components that can be used within any Java-supported browser, says Larry Cable, JavaBeans product manager. Says Cable, “We are leveraging proven concepts within Java. We will not neglect other components on the market, so we have plagiarized some of the concepts out there.”

As it has with many new technologies, the federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency is working to further the usability of components through its Intelligent Integration of Information (I3) research initiative.

The goal of I3 is to develop components that will make data collected from numerous sources available through a single interface.

“We need I3 because people keep stuffing data sources on heterogeneous platforms,” says Nancy Lehrer, a senior scientist at ISX Corp., Washington, D.C.

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