by Mark Trescowthick - AVDF Editor
The more things change, the more they remain the same...
Some time ago (four or five issues back, in fact) we decided to move the Editor's Desk and the Heeler onto a common site, so that they could be maintained more frequently than bi-monthly. Great idea, but they never did get enough maintenance - probably not a surprise to our regular readers!
So, from this issue, the Editor's Desk has been dropped and replaced by what you're reading now :- a column in each issue entitled .NewEvent(). Which is exactly how things were before my "great idea"!
The Heeler hasn't been so lucky though and, after nearly five years of reporting all the VB gossip that was fit to print - and some that wasn't - VB has decided to hang up his bone, as it were, and go in search of greener pastures. I'm sure that there'll be a number of people who'll be glad of that news! Mind you, he might still make an odd contribution or two via this column, if the gossip warrants it...
One would have thought that, after so many years, the VBX/ActiveX market would have been so mature that new product ideas would be hard / impossible to come by. Not so! Especially in the area of management, we continue to see new products weekly. Two that you'll be hearing a lot more about, I predict, are Visual Intercept and VB/Advantage (both of which which we hope to be reviewing next issue). Meanwhile, the established products just keep on keeping on - as Ross Mack's review of WISE 6 in this issue illustrates. And, as mentioned last issue, there's a plethora of server-side ActiveX components now available.
Beware, though, that what you're buying isn't just a poor substitute for 10 or 20 lines of VB code... there are some pretty average "products" floating around. In some ways, it reminds me of the early days of VBXes, except that at least you had to understand C to build them.
Webs, Webs, everywhere
The main movement is still, at least at first glance, on the Web. MS' trial CD for Interdev 6 has almost, so I understand, sold out, and developers everywhere are scrambling to acquire web skills. That's reflected in the balance of articles in this issue, with Web development almost equalling VB. Mind you, just where "VB" finishes and "ASP" begins is an interesting question in its own right.
Will this nonsense ever end?
Without taking sides, could someone please talk some sense into Sun and MS? The latest developments see MS allegedly planning to remove all Java support from the "default" version of IE5 and the US DoJ pondering whether or not they'll sue MS to stop the release of Windows 98 (see below).
That latter thought prompted a letter from 20 or 30 companies (with HP, Intel and Compaq among them) suggesting that this would not be a good idea. Understatement, I'd say. But not really a surprise in some ways... once you allow the legals to run the joint, that's the sort of thing that's going to happen. And Netscape / Sun reckon that MS are the ones stifling development?
Let's just hope that those companies also send MS a letter saying that dropping Java is also a bad idea. Although, having had that piece of alleged "info" leak at a developers conference, MS do seem to be backing away rapidly. The idea that a browser could be shipped without a JVM is this day and age seems ludicrous, and looks, frankly, plain petulant. Mind you, a browser which provided the ability to swap JVMs would be a huge step forward - so long as it shipped with a default!
I mused in these pages some months ago as to just where Sun and Netscape thought they were taking the industry by wheeling out the lawyers to achieve what their respective products couldn't. There was always the risk that, once it started, a legal fight might take unexpected turns. And, if the DoJ succeed in having Windows 98 delayed (or even stopped) because it includes IE4, then the worst case scenario would suddenly be looking awfully possible.
I ask the question again : "Who do you want running the computer industry"? If it's the US DoJ, then you're on a good thing. If it's anyone else (like, for example, consumers, developers, software companies, MS, Sun, Netscape or IBM) then you should be standing up right now and saying so, to anyone who'll listen. Legal maneuverings are not the answer, but it may now be too late. If the DoJ decide to press on, then not much can be done to stop them.
I'm the first to admit MS is no saint, but it's one heck of a lot better than the US DoJ. Perhaps once the DoJ have finished on MS, they'll decide that no vendor should be allowed to do an NC as well as be a sponsor of Java. Or that no official standards enforcer for Java should be allowed to develop a JVM. Or that browser vendors may not also sell server products. I can see perfectly reasonable arguments for all three propositions.
An Update on May 20th...
Well, it finally happened... the DoJ and 20 US States have filed aginst MS and, even though they are not at this time attempting to stop Win98, what they are attempting to do is, so far as I can determine, crazy.
The demand that MS include Netscape with each copy of Win98 I really don't even deign to comment on. Stupidity is its own reward I guess. The demand that MS provide a way for manufacturers to completely change the interface (despite the fact that no manufacturer would appear to want to do this) beggars belief. And the demand that they remove IE4 so completely that it impossible to run is, well, stupid.
Let me get this all in perspective... in order to further competition, the DoJ want to give preferential access to Netscape? Because MS have been successful in promoting the Windows interface, the DoJ believe that the very interface itself is anti-competitive? The DoJ want IE4 removed and Netscape added... this improves competition?
Yes, folks, welcome to the Brave New World of software design. I just hope that, in the event the DoJ wins, MS decide to ship Win98 as is internationally, and give the US market what it will then richly deserve. They've publicly said they won't do that, but I live in hope...
My concern, I should stress, is with the DoJ's methods, not necessarily with its motives. I have no necessary complaint with the statement that MS has too much market power, and that it ought perhaps to be curbed. I think most people in this industry would probably agree that that's the case. If so, then the DoJ has the power (or ought to have, I'm no lawyer) to do to MS what it did to the Baby Bells. By all means, break MS up into, say Operating Systems, Consumer Products and Tools companies.
If the DoJ used that approach, it would be using the right tool for the job. As it is, their meddling can do nothing but harm. They've become fixated, presumably with some "encouragment", with browsers. I guess when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail...
One last thing.
I see some of the PC magazines are now suggesting that NT might get dragged into all this. There was the suggestion that, for example, RAS should be de-bundled because it's anti-competitive - despite the fact it's been there since the very first release.
That's an interesting point, isn't it? Let's see, what other Operating Systems come bundled with heaps of little "addons"? Well, you know, all of them do. The Mac, Unix (even the oh-so-lilywhite Sun's version...). Heck, IBM even bundle a database with the AS/400. I figure that, once the DoJ is finished with the dominant client Operating System, they should, by rights, take on the dominant server Operating System next - Unix. Let's see how Sun like them apples.
And while they're at it, let's think about the dominant Browser too. Surely it's anti-competitive that Netscape don't provide decent VBScript and ActiveX support? They are, after all, respectively the dominant language and technology in Windows.
This is bad, folks. It's really not the way developers should want things to go. I just hope we can all take the anti-MS glasses off long enough to see it. And stop it.
Enough of this ranting...
I hope you enjoy this issue, and look forward to seeing you when next we meet online.