Sun rallies Java backers to tilt at .NET
Ahead or behind? Tricky...
Sun Microsystems Inc has rallied 13 enterprise-level Java licensees to its latest specification, which is expected to stimulate the market for re-usable software components, despite concerns vendors will repeat past portability mistakes in the quest for web services,writes Gavin Clarke.
Palo Alto, California-based Sun yesterday presented to press and analysts the first tranche of vendors - those in application servers and tools - to have passed rigorous testing for certification with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) 1.3 specification - finalized in September last year
Sun's vice president and general manager for Java and XML Rich Green claimed J2EE 1.3 is 56 per cent more popular than its 1.2 predecessor while 92 per cent of companies who choose J2EE for enterprise computing, are "happy" with their choice. "Happy is good, and in the software world happy is a rare. Just ask Bill Gates with security issues," Green joked.
Happiness is likely to come from component-based developers. The Enterprise Java Bean (EJB) 2.0 specification - part of J2EE 1.3 - includes container managed persistence for the interoperability of Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) 2.0 and supports asynchronous communication - for reliable messaging.
One licensee said previous EJB specifications had not seen wide-scale adoption: "There's been hesitation from the user community because of the maturity of the EJB model. When people say they are developing using EJBs, they really mean Java Server Pages."
Sam Patterson, CEO of Marietta, Georgia-based ComponentSource Inc, said the Java component market has been waiting for J2EE because it removes the need for complex programming. "The improved specification simplifies and speeds up component-based development for multi-tier enterprise applications and Web services," he said.
However, the San Francisco, California-based event was dogged by concerns over application compatibility and true Java portability. This age-old issue looks set to receive a new twist as J2EE 1.3 licensees compete against Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's .NET.
J2EE 1.3 provides an entry-level to web services through basic parsing of XML, but lacks native Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) support.
Instead, J2EE 1.3 supports APIs that integrate these protocols but these won't be included in the core J2EE specification until later this year, with J2EE 1.4 - at least six months behind native alternatives from rival Microsoft inside Visual Studio.NET, launched next month.
Partners will achieve J2EE 1.4 certification in the months after completion - meaning that industry wide, standards-based Java web services will not become a reality until late 2002 - widening the gap further on Microsoft and .NET.
Already, the delay threatens to perpetuate traditional Java problems as vendors add APIs approved by the Java Community Process to 1.3 that suit them, ahead of final certification, for competitive edge. Sun's computing rival IBM, one of the 13, called J2EE a foundation for web services but hinted it will press ahead with this tack.
Program director for WebSphere marketing Leslie Givens said: "We believe it's important to have XML and Corba support. IBM will integrate those into our infrastructure and that's the way we'd like to see the 1.4 specification go."
Sun executives defended its strategy yesterday as "evolutionary" - adding components to the core specification once developers have experimented with APIs. Ralph Galantine, J2EE product line manager, also pointed to the expected delay in rollout of web services - expected in late 2002 and early 2003.
Galantine added Sun would continue its efforts to encourage portability but was unclear about whether the company would underline this work with new initiatives during the next 12 months. "Sun wants to encourage that portability," he said.
Green, though, believes J2EE 1.3 already provides the tools necessary to construct Java-based web services. Taking a second dig at Microsoft, Green said: "Some people are suffering from a slideware-driven time warp. They are waiting for .NET, where Java is already promising web services."
Patterson, meanwhile, raised the absence of a viable licensing program from J2EE 1.3 and EJB 2.0 to protect component authors' intellectual property. ComponentSource is lobbying over the issue of licensing, and Patterson said yesterday that a viable system is imperative to stimulate the market. Such a program would help to protect EJB component authors' intellectual property, he said.
"Currently there is no standard way for component authors to protect their intellectual property as they look to sell their in demand component expertise on the open market," Patterson said. Sun said that it is examining licensing and billing of EJB components under its Sun Tone program, but has yet to reach a final conclusion.
Joining Sun at yesterday's event were BEA Systems Inc, Borland Corp, Computer Associates International Inc, Forte Tools, IBM, iPlanet, Macromedia Inc, Pramati Technologies Corp, SAS Institute Inc, SilverStream Software Inc, Sybase Inc, Trifork and TogetherSoft Corp
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