OpenDoc is a new system of working. The basic idea has already been done. “Publish and Subscribe” links different documents into one. When one changes, the final outcome changes with it. OpenDoc has this same idea. It is something that seems very strange at first. It is a system made up of many different components. These components interact with each other to create any type of document you need to make. It isn’t even an application, really. It is built into the System. You create a new document by using the menu command “New” or making a new piece of stationary.

Once you open the document, you will notice something very strange. The menu commands only include the basics like Print and Copy. You start off by pasting a graphic, typing text or using the Embed command. The Embed command loads any component that you request, so you can make the needed type of document. When you click on a block of text, a whole new set of menus appear. They may be Style, Font, Format and Size. When you click on a graphic, the menus may change to Image, Color and Tools.

The graphic and the block of text are actually known as objects. In fact, anything put into an OpenDoc document is an object. When you put the cursor over an object, it changes to reflect the nature of the object, and when you click on the object, the appropriate commands are put into place. OpenDoc knows what commands to add depending on the components you have in your system. So, if you don’t have any graphic components, clicking on one won’t do anything. OpenDoc lets you assign any object type to any tool you have. Therefore, if you don’t have a needed tool for a graphic or movie, you could use any other tool that you do have to manipulate that object. The same goes for charts, spreadsheets, and even text.

OpenDoc brings the drag and drop technology to a new height. You can drag a block of text from one document directly to another and it is treated as a new object. This can be done with any form of data. When you click on that new object, assuming you have the appropriate tools, the right commands will appear.

This is a very promising technology, but it hasn’t caught on yet. The reason is, for most large companies, the customers aren’t demanding it. But customers aren’t going to demand something that they haven’t seen before. Many companies are wondering if OpenDoc will turn into another QuickDraw GX. Apple has said it is focusing on smaller companies because they are more likely to use new technologies and also produce products faster than larger companies. For companies that make integrated software packages (ClarisWorks, etc…), it doesn’t make sense to break up a $600 package into parts costing maybe $100. Apple isn’t helping its own situation too much, either. They are planning on selling Internet access components named CyberDog sometime in 1996. In the next revision of OpenDoc they will include some basic components to get people started. Many large companies want cross-platform solutions. They are not going to support OpenDoc unless the Windows version gets released.

But OpenDoc for Windows is severely hindered because Microsoft has its own object technology called Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). The main difference between OLE and OpenDoc is that OLE doesn’t replace applications like OpenDoc does. Instead, it expands programs capabilities by allowing programs to share data with each other. What happens is when you click on a block of text created in Word, the Word application will open and those tools will appear. If you edit a chart made in Excel, Excel will open and those tools will appear. This requires you to have a lot of memory so you can keep the programs open. Both technologies support plug-in tools to existing tools or to the programs. One strange thing can happen with many different tools. They can not be consistent with each other. The OpenDoc Consortium has released a set of interface guidelines for developers to follow. Microsoft has said that all tools should follow the pattern of Microsoft Office, a group of programs like Word and Excel. Oddly enough, Microsoft Office doesn’t follow the guidelines for Windows or Macintosh. The OLE software doesn’t fit in with any computer now. Probably to promote OLE, Microsoft has no plans of supporting OpenDoc objects or components in its OLE software.

Novell was one of the founders of Ci Labs. Ci Labs is made up of many companies and is in charge of promoting OpenDoc. Novell created ComponentGlue, a program that allows OpenDoc to work with OLE. This is a start to cross-platform capabilities. Novell has left its position in OpenDoc and IBM has taken its place in OpenDoc’s development. IBM is working on the Windows and the OS/2 version of OpenDoc. This is very good because once OpenDoc is available on multiple platforms, companies working on cross-platform solutions will start developing for OpenDoc.

When Apple releases Copland (System 8), OpenDoc is going to be integrated into the System. IBM is also going to add OpenDoc to the next revision of OS/2 Warp. Apple is not going to let OpenDoc go unnoticed like so many of their other products. QuickDraw GX is rarely used because not enough companies were using it in their products. The same could conceivably happen to OpenDoc. But OpenDoc is very useful and will change the way we work, if it catches on. The OLE software is available for the Macintosh, but it is extremely behind the Windows version. OpenDoc is being used now, but once the software developers are given time to produce components, it will be a very big hit. Once it is ported to Windows and OS/2 Warp, it will provide a way to easily exchange data between systems. OpenDoc will change the way people use computers. It will be one of the best things to arrive on the Macintosh.

Brian Koponen lives just outside New York in northern New Jersey. He has been using Macs since the SE, and is now the owner of a Power Mac 6100. His most recent project is learning programing for the Mac. You can write Brian at

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