RealTime IT News

Shifting Alliances With J2EE 1.4

SAN FRANCISCO -- The bickering that hindered Java enterprise development in the past has subsided for now, prompted in part by Microsoft.

A large group of IT firms rooted in J2EE development said Monday that they are putting aside their differences to make sure that compatibility is attainable, now that J2EE version 1.4 is working its way through the marketplace. Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker Sun Microsystems sponsored the press event here, which also brought partners and sometimes rivals IBM, Oracle, BEA, Borland, JBoss and others to the table.

"This is less about the bitching and moaning and moving past it and saying to the enterprise, 'Let's do something productive,'" John Loiacono, Sun 's new executive VP of software, told internetnews.com. "As an industry and as a company, we've standardized implementation. Now it's about who has the best version of J2EE, who has the fastest, the most secure."

A big motivation for the niceties is Sun's landmark $1.9 billion deal with Microsoft. So far, the J2EE community is split between those who have relationships with the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant and those who rely on Sun. Most are curious to see whether Sun will have a positive influence on Microsoft or whether it will be the other way around.

Those who have worked with Microsoft, especially on the Web services standards bodies, have already worked out their compatibility issues . Mark Heid, IBM's program director for WebSphere, said the company's next generation J2EE application server will align much more with both the .NET and Java platforms. BEA Deputy CTO Benjamin Renaud said his company's WebLogic platform is more than just a bag full of APIs that allow for piecemeal interoperability.

On the other side of the coin is JBoss. CEO Marc Fleury said even though his platform is closer to Microsoft than it is to Java, he'd appreciate a better relationship with Microsoft. He suggested that protocols like DHTML in browsers will help with renderings, and applets will control the session on the client side.

Sun has identified improving interoperability between Solaris and Windows servers, and bringing the companies' respective Web services architectures, .Net and Java Web Services, into closer alignment as its top priorities, but it has not publicly disclosed its roadmap.

Michael Dortch, principal business analyst with the Robert Frances Group, suggested that the discussion isn't so much about Java vs. .NET as it is about where each makes the most sense.

"More unification among Java's adherents should mean lower development costs and support challenges," Dortch told internetnews.com. "The new Microsoft-Sun rapprochement, meanwhile, implies more and better avenues for Java-.Net integration, as does integration of XML and Web services in J2EE 1.4. However, there are as yet no guarantees of, nor hard and fast time frames for, such integrations on which IT executives can hang their hats -- or bet their enterprises' strategies for development and support of Web applications and services."

J2EE version 1.4 marks the convergence of XML and Java technology into Web services and support for WS-I Basic Profile. The latest J2EE spec also implements both the Java API for XML-based RPC (JAX-RPC) and the Enterprise Web services specification (also known as JSR 109) in the Java Community Process (JCP). While the majority of applications out in the wild are still running J2EE version 1.3, the majority of firms involved said they were either just launching or on the cusp of releasing products based on version 1.4.

Sun has claimed some successes when it comes to the platform. With the recent launch of Java Enterprise Application Server version 8.0, Sun said it now has reached some 900 thousand downloads of the free software, with 40 to 50 thousand downloads just in the last week. The company also said it has signed up a half dozen more licensees including Shenzhen Kingdee Middleware out of China. Sun released its free J2EE 1.4 Application Verification Kit (AVK), which helps developers with Web services testing, including source code scanning for incompatible proprietary APIs and ANT, an open source program from the Apache Software Foundation.

While many of the players have collaborated nicely on Java's application foundation for Web services , tension between the development platforms remains.

Even though IBM has distanced itself from the Eclipse Project, the developer environment is still at odds with Sun's NetBeans platform. And then there is the question of Sun. IBM has written an open letter to Sun asking it to open Java.

Loiacono denied any need to open up Java more than it is, citing certain market confusion should Java take the same path as Linux and result in 15 or so separate flavors.

"I get that request from vendors, but I don't buy it," Loiacono said. "Customers could care less if Java is open or closed. What they keep asking for is compatibility. Besides, we want to own the technology. What would happen if we did open it, and one of those vendors would take it and make it incompatible with the others?"

Heid said that despite Sun's masking, the two companies are in "preliminary steps" when it comes to opening up Java's code to a broader audience.