Whose vision of openness?

OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) and OPC (OLE for Process Control) frequently feature on this page. Why? They’re opening the flood gates for open connectivity. And, with Intellution’s recent release of the first OPC server code on the Web, industry is poised to align itself ever closer to this Microsoft version of `open’. The impact […]

OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) and OPC (OLE for Process Control) frequently feature on this page. Why? They’re opening the flood gates for open connectivity. And, with Intellution’s recent release of the first OPC server code on the Web, industry is poised to align itself ever closer to this Microsoft version of `open’.

The impact is already obvious, with SCADA and control system vendors falling over themselves to launch OPC-compliant products (Sys.Build, page 21). Adrian Wise, managing director of US Data (UK), says: `With OLE, suppliers will progressively unbundle SCADA modules.’ Intec’s Mark Groves goes further, saying that OPC and ActiveX Controls offer users the prospect of pick-and-mix – although it’s not a panacea.

Microsoft’s dominance can only grow. It’s working ever more closely with industry. Rod Blackwell, Microsoft business manager: `Beyond selling our software to applications providers like Foxboro, GE Fanuc, Siemens and Honeywell, we’ve also relaunched our Microsoft Solutions Providers programme, providing certification and support.’

Microsoft also has its Solutions Providers Partners programme. Blackwell: `We’re looking for about 10 partners this year. These could be hardware and/or software vendors selling via VARs (Value Added Resellers) and SIs (Systems Integrators).’

And the point of all this? As Blackwell himself says: `People don’t buy operating systems like Windows NT – but application providers and hardware vendors do’. The same applies to Microsoft’s SQL Server database, BackOffice Suite and so on.

Looks like Microsoft has got `openness’ in the palm of its hand! And why not? With the scale of third party support, fostered by the immensity and continued growth of the user community, we’re in pretty safe hands.

But, we mustn’t let this blinker us. Yes, everything is going NT 4.0 right now, but note the SCADA vendors’ rush to give Web access – for remote Internet/intranet monitoring and control. Here the buzz is all Java – the open, network- and object-orientated language developed by Sun that brings dynamic SCADA pages to your browser.

There’s a lot more to come here. Rob Bamforth, Internet development manager with Sun: `Java is all about platform-independence, software component reuse – and our revolutionary network-centric architecture – thick servers and thick pipes, but thin clients.’

Sun’s vision is JavaStations (the very low cost, diskless network computers) as the all-pervading distributed clients, plus its hugely scalable workstations and servers, providing the application and database resources – and the Solaris operating system.

Remember, a Java API (Application Program Interface) for automation is currently being developed by Sun with ABB, Bailey, Foxboro, Honeywell, Toshiba et al (C&I, December 1996, page 7). The API’s forecast emergence this summer could signal a whole raft of changes. This goes to the very heart of openness – and system architecture too. So – watch this space.

BRIAN TINHAM