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Messaging Acronyms

by Adam C. Engst

I have some new acronyms for you - VIM and OCE. Only time will tell if these particular acronyms will be with us in the future, but VIM and OCE are certainly worth some thought. VIM, or Vendor Independent Messaging, is a new standard programming interface proposed by Apple, Lotus, and Novell, and supported by Borland and IBM. The idea behind VIM, as far as I can tell, is that anyone will be able to write an application requiring cross platform messaging services using VIM, and application will then be able to talk to all other VIM-aware applications (you've heard of System 7-savvy - perhaps this should be VIM-vigorous?).

VIM is by no means a new idea, and in fact Apple and Lotus tried the same thing earlier under a different acronym, OMI, or Open Messaging Interface. Rule #1 of marketing initially unpopular products: change the name. If it's an acronym, probably nobody will even notice the difference. IBM didn't change the name of OS/2 and may have to drop a couple extra million dollars into marketing it as a result.

Back to the discussion at hand. OMI suffered from the fact that no one much liked it, especially Novell, which carries a lot of weight in the LAN community. Everyone likes the idea of VIM because it's becoming even more obvious that hardware and software from different vendors needs to communicate better. Of course, you'll notice that the companies in question are all members of the Anti-Microsoft Fan Club for various reasons, which may account for why Lotus and Borland are consenting to be seen together in the same press release. I suspect that OMI was a little too early to gather the support it needed. Now that everyone is a bit more worried about Microsoft's intentions for the industry, not to mention the way those intentions are being carried out, even Lotus and Borland might feel a bit more kindly toward each other.

VIM may end up helping with cross-platform messaging, but Apple has its own in-platform messaging scheme now too, called OCE, or Open Collaboration Environment. OCE will add a pleasant front end to what is currently a bit of a user interface nightmare - connecting to network services and working with them. Even basic email programs are often a pain to use and aren't as integrated with the rest of the operating system as many users would like. OCE should help a lot in that respect, providing a Mailbox icon and a World icon right on the Mac desktop and plenty of behind the scenes technology as well.

Integrated email -- The Mailbox icon will open to a window displaying incoming mail, whereas outgoing mail will be handled partly through drag & drop on the Mailbox icon (presumably for pre-addressed files) and partly through integration with applications. Some people on ZMAC were discussing the possibility of using this sort of capability to mail a file to a coworker and then have changes to that file automatically updated in the remote copy through the Edition Manager, a capability that could be very popular in a publishing workgroup, for instance.

I'm especially interested in the concatenation of all my mail services into a single mail environment. Quite frankly, I'm tired of checking email on five different services, each with a completely different interface. I'm still envious of CE's Don Brown though, since he has more email addresses on his business card than I had thought possible. He who dies with the most addresses wins, but no one will care once OCE is out and used. Incidently, one of the electronic islands, America Online, is busy at work on a bridge to the Internet. Look for it sometime this spring or summer.

Network services on the desktop -- The World icon will help bring everything together by providing a single location for all network services and devices, so you don't have to search about in the Chooser. Aside from servers, databases, and network devices such as printers and fax modems, users and groups will be represented in the World window, so sending a file or email to someone remotely could be as easy as dropping it on their icon. I'm sure there will be other methods of sending information as well, since drag & drop, as nice as it can be, is not the ultimate mail interface.

Data Wrappers -- Of course, once Apple brings all this wonderful network stuff out of the closet (does that mean all of us who live on the nets have to come out too?), great confusion will reign due to the massive amount of information suddenly available. Luckily for us, Apple has considered this problem and has come up with the idea of the data wrapper, a layer of indentifying information wrapped around a data file. You'll be able to add keywords, events (some interesting functions could come from this), and even your own customized fields to the data wrappers, which will then allow you to filter your files based on the wrapper criteria. I hope Apple will also provide some tools for automatically creating data wrappers and filtering the data in them, since I've found such keywording too much trouble in the past. How many people really enter summary information for every one of their Word 5 files?

Data Worries -- Some third parties like CE Software are concerned that OCE will remove much of the need for their products. After all, if email is integrated into the Finder and major applications, why bother to use QuickMail? I imagine that Apple's tools will fall short of the sophistication needed by power users and large organizations. Apple often targets its software at a common denominator of user, thus increasing the available market and leaving room for third parties to provide enhancements at the same time. I see no reason that OCE will be different, and even if programs like QuickMail do become redundant, I'm sure that CE will capitalize on its knowledge of email applications and uses to retain a leadership role in the email market. If nothing else, someone is going to have to write gateways for OCE, and nothing has more gateways than QuickMail.

It is nice to see Apple working on this kind of stuff for the Mac since operating systems of the future will have to be aware of more than just the machine they live on, and I think Apple realizes that network awareness is only half the battle. The other half is making those services easily accessible and useful, something which Apple is generally, though not universally, good at. I'm all in favor of making email easier, so I'm looking forward to whatever Apple does come up with.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder --
Apple propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 10-Feb-92, Vol. 6, #6, pg. 1
Communications Week -- 10-Feb-92, #389, pg. 1