QueryInterfacemethod. The preferred method of "inheritance" within COM is the creation of sub-objects to which method "calls" are delegated.
COM is an interface technology defined and implemented as standard only on Microsoft Windows and Apple's Core Foundation 1.3 and later plug-in application programming interface (API). The latter only implements a subset of the whole COM interface. For some applications, COM has been replaced at least to some extent by the Microsoft .NET framework, and support for Web Services through the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). However, COM objects can be used with all .NET languages through .NET COM Interop. Networked DCOM uses binary proprietary formats, while WCF encourages the use of XML-based SOAP messaging. COM is very similar to other component software interface technologies, such as CORBA and Enterprise JavaBeans, although each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike C++, COM provides a stable application binary interface (ABI) that does not change between compiler releases. This makes COM interfaces attractive for object-oriented C++ libraries that are to be used by clients compiled using different compiler versions.
One of the first methods of interprocess communication in Windows was Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), first introduced in 1987, that allowed sending and receiving messages in so-called "conversations" between applications. Antony Williams involved in the creation of the COM architecture, later distributed two internal papers in Microsoft that embraced the concept of software components: Object Architecture: Dealing With the Unknown – or – Type Safety in a Dynamically Extensible Class Library in 1988 and On Inheritance: What It Means and How To Use It in 1990. These provided the foundation of many of the ideas behind COM. Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), Microsoft's first object-based framework, was built on top of DDE and designed specifically for compound documents. It was introduced with Word for Windows and Excel in 1991, and was later included with Windows, starting with version 3.1 in 1992. An example of a compound document is a spreadsheet embedded in a Word for Windows document: as changes are made to the spreadsheet within Excel, they appear automatically inside the Word document.
In 1991, Microsoft introduced Visual Basic Extensions (VBX) with Visual Basic 1.0. A VBX is a packaged extension in the form of a dynamic-link library (DLL) that allows objects to be graphically placed in a form and manipulated by properties and methods. These were later adapted for use by other languages such as Visual C++. In 1992, when version 3.1 of Windows was released, Microsoft released OLE 2 with its underlying object model. The COM Application binary interface (ABI) was the same as the MAPI ABI, which was released in 1992. While OLE 1 was focused on compound documents, COM and OLE 2 were designed to address software components in general. Text conversations and Windows messages had proved not to be flexible enough to allow sharing application features in a robust and extensible way, so COM was created as a new foundation, and OLE changed to OLE2. In 1994 OLE custom controls (OCXs) were introduced as the successor to VBX controls. At the same time, Microsoft stated that OLE 2 would just be known as "OLE", and that OLE was no longer an acronym, but a name for all of the company's component technologies. In early 1996, Microsoft found a new use for OLE Custom Controls, expanding their Web browser's capability to present content, renamed some parts of OLE relating to the Internet "ActiveX", and gradually renamed all OLE technologies to ActiveX, except the compound document technology that was used in Microsoft Office. Later that year, DCOM was introduced as an answer to CORBA.
COM was the major software development platform for Windows and, as such, influenced development of a number of supporting technologies.
In order for Microsoft to provide developers with support for distributed transactions, resource pooling, disconnected applications, event publication and subscription, better memory and processor (thread) management, as well as to position Windows as an alternative to other enterprise-level operating systems, Microsoft introduced a technology called Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) on Windows NT 4. With Windows 2000, that significant extension to COM was incorporated into the operating system (as opposed to the series of external tools provided by MTS) and renamed COM+. At the same time, Microsoft de-emphasized DCOM as a separate entity. Components that made use of COM+ services were handled more directly by the added layer of COM+, in particular by operating system support for interception. In the first release of MTS, interception was tacked on - installing an MTS component would modify the Windows Registry to call the MTS software, and not the component directly. Windows 2000 also revised the Component Services control panel application used to configure COM+ components.
An advantage of COM+ was that it could be run in "component farms". Instances of a component, if coded properly, could be pooled and reused by new calls to its initializing routine without unloading it from memory. Components could also be distributed (called from another machine). COM+ and Microsoft Visual Studio provided tools to make it easy to generate client-side proxies, so although DCOM was used to make the remote call, it was easy to do for developers. COM+ also introduced a subscriber/publisher event mechanism called COM+ Events, and provided a new way of leveraging MSMQ (inter-application asynchronous messaging) with components called Queued Components. COM+ events extend the COM+ programming model to support late-bound (see Late binding) events or method calls between the publisher or subscriber and the event system.
Microsoft .NET provides means both to provide component technology, and to interact with COM+ (via COM-interop-assemblies); .NET provides wrappers to most of the commonly used COM controls. Microsoft .NET hides most detail from component creation and therefore eases development. .NET can leverage COM+ via the System.EnterpriseServices namespace, and several of the services that COM+ provides have been duplicated in recent releases of .NET. For example, the System.Transactions namespace in .NET provides the TransactionScope class, which provides transaction management without resorting to COM+. Similarly, queued components can be replaced by Windows Communication Foundation with an MSMQ transport. (MSMQ is a native COM component, however.) There is limited support for backward compatibility. A COM object may be used in .NET by implementing a Runtime Callable Wrapper (RCW). NET objects that conform to certain interface restrictions may be used in COM objects by calling a COM callable wrapper (CCW). From both the COM and .NET sides, objects using the other technology appear as native objects. See COM Interop. WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) eases a number of COM's remote execution challenges. For instance, it allows objects to be transparently marshalled by value across process or machine boundaries more easily.