When you think of object-oriented programming, Guy "Bud" Tribble may not be the first name that pops into your head. But few can equal his accomplishments: head of Apple Computer Inc.'s software engineering and GUI design; co-founder of NeXT Inc. and key architect of the NextStep operating system; and head of development of Solaris NEO, SunSoft Inc.'s distributed object environment. Today, he's vice president and chief architect of Java systems for Sun Microsystems Computer Co. PC Week caught up with Tribble last month via E-mail. Here is how he thinks object technology is changing the face of IT.
PC WEEK: What's your vision for how component-based applications will change corporate development?
TRIBBLE: Software components will ultimately lead to a "division of labor" in software development. A small set of corporate programmers will develop or purchase components--which will be connected together with easy-to-use graphical tools by individuals who need specific business applications.
The ability to decentralize application development without training everyone to program will be a major competitive advantage.
PC WEEK: Java's platform independence gives Sun an edge. However, even Sun concedes that Java needs a performance boost. When will Java be ready to build mission-critical distributed applications?
TRIBBLE: It depends on the application. Of course, Java is being used today to build the client side of mission-ritical distributed applications. However, using Java on the server side of an application does stress the need for performance and scalability.
Java performance is perhaps one of the most rapidly changing aspects of Java. Sun's Java licensees continue to tune the Java virtual machine, and with JIT [just-in-time] compiler technology, we have seen performance that is 50 percent to 80 percent [faster than] native compiled code. At this level, only the most performance-sensitive application would lead one to give up the platform independence of Java.
PC WEEK: Given the success of Java in winning developer mind share, what happens now to Sun's previously announced DOE [distributed object everywhere] plans?
TRIBBLE: The DOE program ultimately led to a family of products based around the Object Management Group's CORBA [Common Object Request Broker Architecture] standard, including Solaris NEO, which includes CORBA technology, and Joe, a CORBA implementation for Java.
Most major computing companies, including Sun, Oracle, Netscape and IBM, have chosen the CORBA standards as a common way to connect software objects across the network. The fact that CORBA is language- and OS-independent makes it a natural player in the very heterogeneous world of MIS architecture.
PC WEEK: How will the market for ORBs shake out?
TRIBBLE: I really think that the ORB market can be likened to the market for TCP/IP stacks a few years ago. It was an interesting market until every operating system started including TCP/IP as a standard feature. I believe that ORBs will go the same way.
PC WEEK: Will Microsoft's DCOM [Distributed Common Object Model] technology eventually make OMG's CORBA irrelevant?
TRIBBLE: DCOM will certainly be around. I predict it is likely to remain a Windows- and Windows NT-only technology for quite some time, if not forever. The intranet and certainly the Internet are, and will remain, heterogeneous worlds, making multiplatform technology like CORBA very desirable.
I think there will be many implementations of CORBA/DCOM bridging technology available. It reminds me of the coexistence of TCP/IP and Novell [Inc.'s] proprietary IPX protocols.
PC WEEK: Are distributed objects a good, bad or neutral way to develop thin clients?
TRIBBLE: I would say it is a "natural" way to develop three-tier client/server applications for JavaStations or any network computer. Products like the Joe Java ORB let the JavaStation communicate with a CORBA-based middle tier of business objects, which, in turn, leverage the existing back-end database and transaction processing systems.
Compiled by Senior Writer Lawrence Aragon of PC Week/Inside and Senior Editor Rusty Weston of PC Week/Executive.