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Sun Microsystems and Microsoft have both made significant announcements on J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) this week.

Sun has unveiled the latest specification for J2EE, version 1.3. The main changes are a new Java connector architecture, XML integration capabilities (including support for parsing and transforming XML within the Java API for XML, as well as the ability to write and manipulate Java Server Pages in XML) and improved Enterprise Java Bean (EJB) 2.0 support.

In addition the Java Message Service (JMS) is integrated into the J2EE platform. This is particularly important because Sun has said that those seeking to comply with the 1.3 specification must provide support for both JMS as well as the same version of IIOP, in order to pass compatibility testing.

The intent behind the insistence on JMS and adherence to IIOP standards is to ensure interoperability and connectivity between different applications built on J2EE platforms.

The dope on SOAP

However, while admirable in theory, this argument is subverted - because there is no standard method in J2EE 1.3 for supporting SOAP (the Simple Object Access Protocol), which has rapidly achieved recognition as the de facto standard for swapping XML-based web services between systems.

For most vendors, J2EE is a must-have. Traditionally, software suppliers of various types supported Windows and a selection of the leading Unix vendors. Now that J2EE offers a common platform across Unix environments, most companies in the future will simply offer a Windows version and a J2EE version.

Of course, certification on divergent platforms remains an issue but not nearly so much as in porting from one Unix platform to another. Not surprisingly therefore, lots of vendors are already endorsing J2EE version 1.3, including BEA, Borland, Computer Associates, Iona, iPlanet, Macromedia, Oracle, Sonic (Progress Corporation’s operating company that develops and markets the Java-based SonicMQ message queuing system), Sybase and Tibco.

Window of Opportunity?
Microsoft, meanwhile, has announced that it will be releasing a JDBC driver for SQL Server 2000. This has been developed by Merant’s DataDirect division (which is to be sold off) and is licensed by Microsoft. It is currently in beta and will be available for download from Microsoft’s web site in due course, with operating platform support for Windows XP, Windows 2000, AIX, HP-UX, Sun Solaris and Linux.

It will enable JDBC access via any Java-enabled applet, application or application server and supports JDK versions up to 1.3. DataDirect’s JDBC technologies are certified for the J2EE platform and they provide support for stored procedures, batched queries and universal metadata. The Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI), Java Transaction service and connection pooling are also supported.

Sun is, of course, touting its Open Net Environment, which is based on J2EE and Java as the solution for web services, in competition to Microsoft’s .Net. This creates an interesting situation. J2EE is more widely used, at least within larger organisations.

On the other hand, .Net is probably more radical and more advanced towards its goal of providing comprehensive support for web services. In particular, the omission of SOAP from this J2EE specification may give Microsoft a window of opportunity. Nevertheless, in practice it may be difficult for Microsoft to make significant inroads into the J2EE market, at least in the short term. That is, until .Net is completely with us, is stable and is perceived to offer real benefits.

In the meantime the release of JDBC for SQL Server isn’t just a question of Microsoft hedging its bets, it also offers a genuinely useful additional feature. In particular it opens up the possibility of deploying SQL Server is environments that are otherwise mostly based on Unix.

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