New Software Building Blocks Could Transform US Computing

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE race to develop successful ``object oriented'' software is heating up.

Yesterday, Hewlett-Packard Company announced it was joining the IBM-Apple Computer joint venture called Taligent Inc., boosting the start-up company's effort to capture the market for this innovative approach to programming.

The goal is to make it dramatically easier to develop new software (or to customize existing software) by making programs out of basic building blocks, known as objects. These building blocks would be reusable and flexible so that other software companies could configure them in new products. Hewlett-Packard likens the coming shift toward object technology to the change from hand-crafted manufacturing to mass production.

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By taking a 15 percent equity stake in Taligent, Hewlett-Packard puts its strong reputation alongside Apple and IBM Corporation, which have come to be perceived as ``two sick doves'' of the computer industry, says Brent Williams, a software analyst with International Data Corporation.

In addition to the symbolic and financial boost, Hewlett-Packard agreed to license technology to the joint venture and to use Taligent products atop its own software.

The Taligent partnership, based in Cupertino, Calif., is one of three camps that have emerged in the object-software battle, Mr. Williams notes.

Camp No. 2 is Microsoft Corporation, king of personal-computer software, which is developing close ties with Digital Equipment Corporation. DEC, like Hewlett-Packard, is a maker of the workstation machines that lie at the center of many personal-computer networks.

Camp No. 3 is a recently announced alliance between Sun Microsystems Inc. - yet another workstation vendor - and NeXT Computer Inc., a small company run by Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Williams describes the addition of Hewlett-Packard to the competition as a ``solid double'' for Taligent. Ultimately, the biggest winners in the race may be the software industry as a whole and computer users.

``We're out to have both Microsoft and Taligent compete to be the first ones to deliver an object environment,'' says Philippe Kahn, chief executive officer of Borland International Inc., a large software company in Scott's Valley, Calif. Customers will benefit, he says, as it becomes easier for companies to adapt software to specific needs.

Currently, developers of software applications must put an inordinate effort into conforming their programs to the computer's basic software on which applications run.

``By the year 2000, most of the systems being sold will be object-based,'' Mr. Kahn predicts.

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