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Frequently Asked Questions About Open Software Description (OSD)

August 14, 1997

What is OSD?
What are the OSD benefits to end users?
How does OSD relate to Microsoft's "Zero Administration Windows" initiative?
What is XML?
What is CDF?
How does OSD relate to XML? To CDF?
What is the status of all of these specifications in the W3C?
Why does Microsoft see all of this work with standards bodies as important?



What is OSD?

The Open Software Description (OSD) specification provides a data format or XML-based vocabulary to describe software components, their versions, their underlying structure, and their relationships to other components. When used in conjunction with push-based technologies, OSD helps address the software setup problem by enabling software to update itself automatically. Automatic software installations and upgrades based on the OSD format will improve the overall PC user experience and will reduce the total cost of PC ownership in corporate environments.

What are the OSD benefits to end users?

OSD promises to provide users the benefits of easier setup and easier maintenance of PC software, such as:

  • Hands-free installation - Users do not need to manually install software.
  • Easy and timely upgrade from a designated location - The burden of software upgrades is placed on the software itself.
  • Cross-platform - Reduces complexity for the user by providing cross-platform software, or the correct version of platform-specific software. The user is guaranteed to receive working software in both cases.

How does OSD relate to Microsoft's "Zero Administration Windows" initiative?

The introduction of OSD is one more step towards Microsoft's goal to reduce the total cost of PC ownership. There are many aspects to consider when talking about reducing PCs' total cost of ownership (TCO). Part of reducing cost is improved administration support, which Microsoft will deliver in the Internet Explorer Administration Kit and later with the NT Management Console (MMC). Another part of reducing cost is automatic installation of applications. The introduction of OSD is a first step towards this goal, and it will be completed with the delivery of Zero Administration Windows (ZAW) in Windows NT® 5.0.

What is XML?

The Extensible Mark-up Language (XML) is an emerging new standard in process at the W3C that will become the universal language for describing data on the Internet, complementing HTML. Since co-founding the XML group in June 1996, Microsoft has played an important role in the ongoing XML standardization process. XML promises to revolutionize applications on the Web, and is already the basis for many important Web file formats, such as the open Channel Definition Format (CDF).

What is CDF?

The Channel Definition Format (CDF) is the XML-based vocabulary for pushing or webcasting content. Since its introduction earlier this year, CDF has gained tremendous industry momentum and is backed by over 100 companies and organizations building Web content, tools, clients, servers, proxies, and protocols.

How does OSD relate to XML? To CDF?

Like the Channel Definition Format (CDF), OSD is based on the XML syntax. In both cases, XML provides the grammar, and CDF and OSD provide the vocabulary. CDF is the vocabulary for push. OSD is the vocabulary for packaging software. Because they are both XML-based, OSD naturally integrates tightly with CDF -- the combination of the two enables automatic push-based installation of software.

What is the status of all of these specifications in the W3C?

The XML specification was introduced by the W3C itself when the XML group was founded in June 1996 (Microsoft was a co-founder). Since last June, XML has received growing attention and support from many companies in the industry, including (recently) Netscape. XML is already the basis for many standards proposals and ongoing work in Internet specifications, such as HTTP-DAV, CDF, PICS-Rulz, RDF, and now OSD.

CDF is a proposal before the the W3C. It will be discussed at the W3C Push Workshop in September 1997. OSD is currently a specification co-authored by Microsoft and Marimba -- the two companies plan to submit this specification to a standards body shortly. For now, the open specification is available at http://www.microsoft.com/standards/OSD/osdspec-f.htm.

Both CDF and OSD specifications have already garnered significant support within the industry, and have strong ties to the well-accepted XML specification.

Why does Microsoft see all of this work with standards bodies as important?

Microsoft has a very real commitment to open Internet standards, playing an active role in the W3C, IETF, and ECMA groups. As part of this commitment to open standards, Microsoft has partnered or cooperated closely with numerous Internet software companies to advance open industry specifications -- e.g., PointCast, Netscape, FireFly, Marimba, BackWeb. Internet Explorer 4.0 will be the first commercial Internet client to support the leading-edge standards or proposals in every category, including HTTP 1.1, HTML 4.0, CSS 2.0, PNG images, ECMAScript, and the Document Object Model for Dynamic HTML, XML, CDF, and the P3 Architecture for Privacy.


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