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Apple and WordPerfect Announce OpenDoc

June 1993

WordPerfect has announced an architecture for compound documents, based on the Apple Amber technology (formerly known by such code names as Jedi and Exemplar). They are joined in this project by Apple, as well as by Novell, IBM, and Borland, with negotiations in progress with other major developers. Novell and WordPerfect will be jointly managing OpenDoc development.

With its leadership in word processing software, its emphasis on providing function across multiple document platforms, and its interest in document processing, it was only natural that WordPerfect would be looking for solutions to permit itself to more easily develop product in a demanding, flexible and extensible environment. WordPerfect has determined that by extending its efforts to others -- as many others as possible through an open architecture and an OpenDoc Association to manage documentation and enhancements to the standard -- it could leverage the results of its own efforts.

You can think of OpenDoc as both an extension and an alternative to Microsoft's OLE (object linking and embedding) tool. Carl May of Apple points out that the focus of OpenDoc is on cross-platform interoperability beyond Macintosh and Windows (since that could be accomplished by OLE). Applications which are OLE 2.0 enabled will be fully interoperable with OpenDoc applications (and vice versa).

But WordPerfect believes that OpenDoc focuses on the document rather than on the tool, and permits plug and play documents, with new elements easily added or substituted. Editing occurs in place, with context preserved, and the user receives immediate feedback from any changes. OpenDoc provides powerful document management support, a consistent scripting architecture and a standard object interface using IBM's System Object Model (SOM) and with CORBA compliance.

OpenDoc embodies four key elements:

(1) real world open, extensible standards;
(2) a modern architecture;
(3) a multi-platform vision; and
(4) an evolutionary approach.

OpenDoc for Windows, OS/2, the OS Workplace Shell Family and Macintosh will be in final versions by June, 1994. (A software developers' kit in beta version will be available First Quarter, 1994.) The availability of UNIX support will be announced in late summer (likely for a 2ndHalf94 date). OLE 2.0 interoperability will be available when the product ships.

OpenDoc is part of a much larger movement that includes many vendors from both the PC and UNIX communities, all attempting to find new strategies that will permit them to compete against the ever-enlarging, very successful Microsoft. Many of these strategies are aimed, like OpenDoc, at preventing Microsoft from gaining total control of an as-yet-unoccupied territory, merely by claiming it is an extension of the existing Microsoft Empire.

It is too soon to know whether OpenDoc will succeed. Such standards -- and wide support for them -- is a good idea, leading to flexibility and interoperability. But in the computer industry, commitment is only a necessary condition and not a sufficient one. What counts is whether software ships -- and in what quantity. If OpenDoc attracts many developers to its banner and they use it to differentiate their products, things will turn out differently than Microsoft intended, with the marketplace less focused on Microsoft's products and strategies and control more dispersed.

But OLE is now and OpenDoc is only later, so we will have to wait to see what happens next. We'd expect the next round to be two parts: some sharp and disparaging words from Microsoft, designed to rally ISV's around the OLE banner and a flurry of commitments from ISV's, rushing to join OpenDoc, but knowing that all that is required today is a signature.

Since developing for OLE today is no barrier to developing for OpenDoc next year, we suspect many ISV's will commit now, but wait to code until they see how things are developing. Lots of important sign-ups, a strong association, and lots of user interest in OpenDoc as a platform for internal development would all be helpful in convincing the developer community that OpenDoc is an important part of their future.

Comments or Questions: Send Email to opinions@wohl.com

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Entire contents © 1993 by Amy D. Wohl. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden.