Big Vendors Lobby for CORBA With Their Java

Despite the approval of Java 2, Standard Edition (J2SE) 1.5 by an executive committee on technical standards, three of the country’s largest software vendors have voiced concerns over the specification’s lack of support for an interoperability scheme.

IBM and BEA Systems , which make middleware tools for developers, and systems vendor Hewlett-Packard are taking issue with a dearth of Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) support in the latest Java release, according to people involved with the process.

All three companies are part of the 14-member Java Specification Request-176 (JSR) committee, which approved the Java version in a unanimous vote last week. But they apparently cast their vote, despite their concerns, because they did not want to upset the release date of Tiger, the code name for the upcoming public review of J2SE.

Laurie Friedman, an IBM spokesperson, declined comment on IBM’s objections, but said the company wrote out its concerns regarding “unresolved” CORBA support during the voting process last week. “We look forward to a constructive solution to this matter,” she said.

J2SE is considered the desktop version of the Java language, an environment for independent developers to create client-side applications and is also the foundation for Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE), the implementation used to run on servers over the intranets and the Internet. The improvements in place in J2SE 1.5 will be the backbone upon which J2EE 1.5 will be developed.

J2SE 1.5 is the long-awaited upgrade from 1.4, released two years ago, and as such, priority was given to client-side improvements in Java, from scalability to ease of development to performance.

CORBA is an industry standard for interoperability. Networks with the specification can talk to any operating system , programming language or application, a critical element in today’s computing environment, where most enterprise networks consist of hardware and software from multiple vendors.

It’s the interface (or middleware) for systems to access the data and
functions of other systems; CORBA-empowered applications can request
information from another CORBA-enabled app without changing the processes. Companies like IBM and BEA build their own Object Request Brokers , though native support is found within the J2SE platform.

Calvin Austin, JSR-176 specification lead, told there were about 400 suggestions by developers for improvements to J2SE 1.4. Some addressed the need for quicker load times; others wanted the inclusion of generics (or templates) in the code. Version 1.5 addressed all but 100 of them, he added.

For the committee working on the specification, he said, it was a question of how much CORBA support do you natively support before it’s too much?

“It’s a gray area, you obviously want to put as much in without jeopardizing the platform,” Austin said. “(CORBA’s) always being incremented, always being added, we just need to find out what parts (to add) and where.”

Based on the feedback received in the 90 days from the release of the public review, JSR-176 committee members will make modifications to J2SE 1.5 and publish a final review. It’s likely changes to CORBA support will be made at that time, Austin said.

BEA’s beef with CORBA support in 1.5 stems, not from a lack of support for the specification, but from its age. In its comments to the JSR-176 vote, BEA officials stated they wanted CORBA support in the language upgraded to version 2.6. In a follow up query, BEA officials said most of their customers don’t use the CORBA support because it’s outdated.

Currently, J2SE 1.5 supports CORBA 2.3.1, a version adopted in 1999 and the one used in J2SE 1.4. However, Austin said many companies are running their own implementation of CORBA.

“CORBA is used extensively,” he said. “We have a fully-compliant ORB
essentially and it’s really about what is added to it. For
interoperability, we can actually work with other ORBs, which works out great and we have an endorsed standards mechanism, so lots of companies have their own CORBA ORBs and CORBA technology.”

Unlike many programming languages with proprietary information, JSR
committees are formed within the Java Community Process (JCP), founded by Sun Microsystems , in order to shepherd the decision-making process in Java development. It’s an open forum that lets individual developers as well as blue ribbon software vendors have a say in the future direction of the language.

While J2SE 1.5 is good news for the Java community, it will be some time before companies as an entity take notice of the language upgrade, said Tom Murphy, an analyst with the META Group.

“For Fortune 1000 companies, their focus is on J2EE, not J2SE primarily so it has no impact on them until the new [revision] of J2EE,” he told “To really have an impact, it’s going to be sometime next year. Certainly, people will start playing with it and working with it, and a lot of people will download it to see what’s going on, but it’s going to take a while to update.”

Although the desktop version has been out for approximately two years, J2EE 1.4 was only released last
Sun officials say the SE/EE product cycle difference is about 18 months, so companies should expect J2EE 1.5 around September 2005.

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