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Report: J2EE in Jeopardy

Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition, or J2EE, is a platform-independent standard designed for Web-based enterprise applications. It is also a standard with an uncertain future, according to some analysts.

As a business tool, J2EE has achieved mass adoption because vendors like Sun, IBM, BEA and others are promoting it as a viable alternative to Microsoft's .NET framework. But researchers at IT market analysis firm Burton Group are preparing a presentation that suggests market forces, including commoditization, open source alternatives, and new disruptive technologies, are conspiring to change the landscape of the J2EE specification and its market.

Burton is expected to present its recommendations for J2EE developers and deployments next week in an online discussion entitled J2EE: A Standard in Jeopardy.

"Customers need to be wary of whom they ask to provide their J2EE stack and they should also consider some of the alternative frameworks," report author and Burton analyst Richard Monson-Haefel told internetnews.com. "We're not saying that companies should abandon J2EE, but we recommend that they turn over the responsibility to the open source world while the major vendors focus on what we're terming as a J2EE super platform."

Monson-Haefel's argument is that companies like JBoss, Apache Geronimo and Object Web's Jonas are commoditizing the standard and other projects like Spring, Hibernate and Apache Tomcat are providing a "simpler and good enough" model. Meantime, top-tier players like IBM, Oracle, BEA, Sun, SAP, and Sybase are hard at work trying to out-develop each other in building the next layers of the stack. The concern is also that independent middleware developers are still needed but may be caught in the crossfire.

And then there is .NET.

".NET is a big threat," Monson-Haefel said. "It is not a good enough platform. It is just as good. I don't really see the big vendors getting hurt from .NET. That is a segment of the market where customers will continue to have a non-proprietary choice. But the investments in J2EE are not paying off. There is a choice to preserve the standard or fragment the market. Companies need to stop sinking resources in it ... but they need to rally around it. Instead, they need to look at moving their resources into [service oriented architecture], Web services and others that create that next layer."

Put simply, Monson-Haefel said the J2EE platform needs a unified front because open source projects will not compete in that super platform space for some time. His advice to clients is not to run scared when they see the commoditization. Nor should they run scared when they see the progress of Spring, Hibernate or even servlets. The true advantage, according to Monson-Haefel is trying to keep some of these disparate players under one roof. That may be a sticky situation, considering the upcoming J2EE 5.0 release is something of a flashpoint in the industry. The latest release of J2EE -- version 5.0 -- is in the works.

Always up for a little healthy debate, other analysts internetnews.com interviewed gave their assessment of the J2EE landscape and Burton's claims that the standard is in jeopardy.

"As much as the vendor landscape is being overhauled, I don't necessarily perceive the threat to J2EE as a 'standard,'" Stephen O'Grady, a senior analyst with research firm Redmonk said. "I think it's a mistake often made to portray J2EE as the only appropriate path for Java development. J2EE is a choice that enterprises can make for certain reasons -- manageability, reliability, scalability, etc. -- but it's hardly the only means of producing Java applications."

O'Grady suggests there is even more distribution between simpler servlet-based development and full-blown J2EE. Regardless of this recognition, however, the analyst points out there are high-end application development projects that only J2EE can solve.

Shawn Willett, principal analyst with research firm Current Analysis, agrees that there is a lot of pressure being put on the J2EE marketplace, and especially for the Java Community Process (JCP), for a lot of reasons.

"Most of the problems are a result of the success and widespread adoption of J2EE. This has made the stakes very high for a lot of vendors who want to either control, co-opt, subvert or strengthen the Java standards process," Willett said. "I think it still can be kept together, but it's going to take users to get involved and pressure vendors to stay within the bounds of the standards and to work with the JCP and related standards and work out the differences of opinion on how to reform the JCP."

The Yankee Group's Dana Gardner adds that Java as a development and deployment framework remains far more complete than open source alternatives. The senior analyst said the way that Java specifications and open source development and deployment approaches and options are still up for grabs.

"Does it make sense to re-invent the Java wheel in open source?" Gardner asked. "Should porting to native open source components rather than writing to Java specifications and a [Java Virtual Machine] approach be beneficial? I doubt it. Making Java open source on some level, as IBM and BEA have called for, does make sense, however, to keep the open source and Java communities aligned. They need to form a viable, long-term alternative to .NET development. This offers the most flexibility. Sun and the JCP should be able to keep Java compliance and make it open source, too; they are not mutually exclusive."

The next step for Burton is a report coming out some time in December asking the question about what makes a Java Super platform and who will survive that market. Monson-Haefel said that he's not yet ready to reveal who will survive the test, but he promises some surprises.