UK objects to Microsoft's proposed C++ extensions

UK representatives at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are objecting to Microsoft's request to fast-track a specification through the body that would provide a way for developers to directly program applications for the .Net framework using the C++ programming language.

The specification, called C++/Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), is too different from the ISO's current C++ standard to have the C++ name tied to it, according to a U.K. paper filed to the ISO.

"Continuing to identify both languages by the same name ... will cause widespread confusion and damage to the industry and the standard language," the paper said.

Microsoft has already gone through the process of approving C++/CLI through ISO's sister standards organization, Ecma International, and has requested Ecma fast-track it through ISO to become an ISO standard.

C++/CLI is a set of C++ extensions, including some of the basic technologies for Microsoft's .Net framework, that allows developers to build .Net applications in C++ without having to use an intermediary step to access the framework, according to Herb Sutter, principal architect for C++/CLI at Microsoft and chair of the ISO C++ standard committee.

Although Microsoft supports several languages for .Net programming, Sutter said the company wanted C++ developers to have the option of full and direct access to .Net programming. Microsoft built .Net into the Windows OS starting with the first service pack for Windows XP, and the next version of the OS, Windows Vista, will be built on .Net.

Microsoft has worked with both ISO and Ecma since October 2003 to make C++/CLI a standard so the technology can be used with any standard C++ compiler. Sutter said he will suggest a way to resolve the disagreement, which could include renaming the technology, at an ISO meeting in Berlin scheduled for April.

Still, some industry watchers see Microsoft's attempt to add extensions to the C++ standard as a sign of troubles to come as Microsoft's OpenXML technology moves through the standards process. Microsoft submitted OpenXML, the standard for document formats in Microsoft Office, to Ecma last year with the goal of making it an ISO standard.

Pamela Jones, author of the popular Groklaw blog (www.groklaw.net), said that Microsoft has never been a company that easily relinquishes control over technologies essential to its most popular products. In this case, Microsoft appears to be trying to assert some control over the C++ standard to "capitalize on their monopoly position," and it could do the same with OpenXML in the future, she said.

"As the U.K. paper points out, it confuses people/developers about what the standard actually looks like, and because of all the people who use Microsoft products, after a while the numbers crowd out the standard and Microsoft's Brand X wins in the marketplace," Jones said.

Microsoft's OpenXML submission to Ecma includes leeway for the company to add extensions to the standard, so Microsoft could tweak OpenXML in a way that would cause interoperability trouble for third-party software companies down the line, she said.

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