8-Ball in the CORBA Pocket

Before the birth of COM and Java, the nonprofit Object Management Group (OMG) defined a method to standardize the use of objects in a distributed computing environment. When the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) was first proposed, the average company was barely making use of object-oriented (OO) development. Few companies were immediately interested in distributing those objects globally across many different platforms. Today, the ubiquity of networks and business-to-business connectivity has brought distributed objects and Object Request Brokers (ORB) to the technological forefront. At San Francisco’s recent Comdex/Enterprise, the major CORBA players briefed the press on their products and the upcoming 3.0 specification, due at the end of this year. I decided to use another type of orb, the Tyco Magic 8-Ball, to get to the heart of these recent advancements.

EBA: Microsoft’s Distributed COM (DCOM) provides methods for accessing distributed objects. It provides a lot of functionality, offers slick drag-and-drop development, and does not lock programmers into a particular programming language. Isn’t DCOM the right choice for any enterprise?

8-Ball: My sources say no.

EBA: Are you saying that although DCOM is powerful, its proprietary nature and reliance on Windows will make integration of the trillions of dollars worth of existing legacy software difficult or impossible? And that the problems with relying on a single vendor should be obvious from the delays of NT 5.0?

8-Ball: Without a doubt.

EBA: What about Java? Java is nonproprietary and is available from many vendors. It has reasonably complete functionality. Can Java provided the right distributed solution for every enterprise?

8-Ball: Outlook not so good.

EBA: Hmmm. So are you saying that Java locks programmers into a single programming language that constitutes only a tiny fraction of all existing code? And that performance issues, virtual machine incompatibilities, and unproven scalability are still undermining Java’s attempts to win the enterprise?

8-Ball: As I see it, yes.

EBA: CORBA has been in use in enterprises since its inception, but it has always been the domain of serious bit-heads and consultants. Is it exciting to you that CORBA integration had finally made it to shrink-wrapped development environments such as Inprise Corp.’s Delphi 4.0?

8-Ball: Yes - definitely.

EBA: As I understand it, the major changes coming with the CORBA 3.0 specification include full Java and Internet support, including XML; quality of service management, including messaging and real-time services; and a distributed component model, including support for drag-and-drop development environments and scripting.

8-Ball: Most likely.

EBA: The various proposals still need to be reviewed and accepted. Setting standards sure takes a long time. Is that why CORBA seems to advance more slowly than other, proprietary technologies?

8-Ball: It is certain.

EBA: Still, support for a component model is going to make CORBA developers’ lives a lot easier. I’ve heard that ease-of-use is one of the key goals of the 3.0 specification. Does this mean that CORBA programming is going to be in the realm of mortals?

8-Ball: Concentrate and ask again.

EBA: For example, take CORBA component scripting. If CORBA objects can be accessed from anywhere in the heterogeneous networked world using a simple scripting language, isn’t that going to make things a little too easy? Will developers be able to finally relax, knowing that all their integration nightmares are over?

8-Ball: Better not tell you now.

EBA: CORBA has a strong presence in telecoms, utilities, insurance, health care and other vertical markets. To support these groups more thoroughly, I understand that CORBA includes vertical specifications, such as the definition of a patient for the health-care industry. This is going to make business-to-business object interaction a lot easier in the future, isn’t it?

8-Ball: Signs point to yes.

EBA: I know a lot of companies using Microsoft’s DCOM. Java too. Doesn’t this mean that CORBA will lose out with these companies?

8-Ball: Don't count on it.

EBA: You mean that because CORBA is a superset of the various distributed component architectures, it will likely be integrator of all the various systems. For example, if an individual department makes the decision to create a DCOM or Java solution, a CORBA bridge will ultimately make the disparate component information available to the rest of the enterprise.

8-Ball: It is decidedly so.

EBA: Thanks for your time. Before we finish, I know that a lot of our readers would like to know if CORBA 3.0 will make good on its promises and begin to achieve critical mass in the next year.

8-Ball: Cannot predict now.

EBA: I should have known. --Eric Binary Anderson is a Development Manager at PeopleSoft's PeopleTools division (Pleasanton, Calif.) and has his own consulting business, Binary Solutions. Contact him at ebinary@yahoo.com.