Chris' Rant- by Chris Wenham

It's hardly a surprise that the new craze in software is to develop for the Un-platform. This is where you use some of the latest development tools and methods to write the bulk of your code in a platform-independant 'engine', then compile it effortlessly to Mac\Windows\Unix\OS/2\Set-top-boxes\Cellular phones\whatever.

StarDivision's StarOffice was written like this, and as such it's not only available on half a dozen different platforms, it's also available in half a dozen different languages. Corel wants to port their entire office suite to the platform-independant Java language. And IBM has been releasing all their latest cool technologies and gadgetry on Windows and OS/2 and AIX all at the same time.

So what's the benefit to all this? As I said, modern tools, techniques and programming languages are making it cheaper, easier and faster to port an application to anything the developer wants. You get the safety of spreading your eggs across more than one basket, the profit from selling to 100% of the market, and the customer loyalty that comes from giving users the freedom to move to whatever platform suits their business.

As for distribution, a CD-ROM could hold all of Netscape's 16... oh no... 17 different versions of its browser. Plus, on the Internet, all you need to do is click.

Everyone wins.

Except, of course, Microsoft, a company that believes it has the right to control the API that developers write for. When Microsoft began to lose control of the Windows API (in the form of WIN-OS/2, SoftWindows for the Mac, and WINE for Unix) the only possible choice was to change the platform and MAKE DAMN SURE it was the new standard. Their grip, their power, and their income are due to that control of the standard.

But this new cross-platform strategy puts the user's attention where it belongs -- with the application, and not the operating system. It takes the wind out of Microsoft's sails because now Windows is just another platform, mixed in with the multiples that vendors sell to. Still important, yes, but less and less so each year. The only things that really stand in the way of consumer freedom now, and maybe the last trick up Microsoft's sleeve, are the contracts that exclude a vendor from selling anything but the Windows version of a given application.

Nasty pieces of work, but Microsoft still has power and the will to swing it. Never mind the DOJ.

But most of all, the cross-platform strategy will be essential for the survival of the modern software company. More computers are being used in more different places than they ever were before and there is no single operating system that suits them all. The days when one platform was used by 80% of the market are over. The Windows platform has been cleaved in half, free Unixes are attracting a hoard of users looking for a bargain, and then of course there's always the 14 million strong OS/2 userbase. Whichever companies have the most portable code will be the ones who make the biggest killing in the next decade.

All that remains now is to see if the idea really is a workable one. There's only one kind of person who can guarantee it.


Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company -- Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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