IBM Releases WebSphere 6 Sneak Peek

IBM is giving developers a
glimpse of the latest code in its next application server version, WebSphere 6, more than two years since the release of its current application server and development platform, WebSphere 5.

Big Blue officials claim that WebSphere 6 will be the first major
vendor-released software suite to be Java 2 Enterprise Edition certified. As such, they said it’s important to get developers used to the new features before the official release of the full version in the second half of 2004.

“For any new technology, particularly something of this magnitude, you want to get it in the hands of developers as soon as possible,” Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere software, told “They want to
educate themselves, they want to experiment, they want to start porting some
of their software over.”

Tutorials for App Server V6 have been on IBM’s DeveloperWorks Web site for some time, with
documentation on the added features found in Thursday’s code download. They
include support for J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA) 1.5, Java application
program interface for XML-remote procedure call
(JAX-RPC 1.1), messaging-driven timers, servlets and
enterprise JavaBeans .

Although IBM’s WebSphere is compatible with standards from both the J2EE and Web Services Activity group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WebSphere 6 is all about J2EE 1.4.

“While there are any number of releases that do different things, you could
almost view J2EE 1.4 as the Web services release,” Sutor said.

The free download is a welcome switch for developers who make applications
that run on the WebSphere Application Server. In the past, IBM has been criticized
for its lack of support for the J2EE standards. Giving developers time to
work with the code before the full release is a good move on IBM’s part,
said Stephen O’Grady, an analyst at technology analysis firm Redmonk.

“It’s an indication that IBM certainly recognizes that there are those
customers that want to be on the bleeding edge in terms of their embrace of
new standards and the latest and greatest new technology,” he told “This is certainly a good opportunity to get an
early look at it.”

He also said with six months to go before the final version is released, many additions and modifications could still be made to the code base. IBM’s Sutor
said the downloadable code is a stripped-down version of what Application
Server V6 will look like later this year, without many of the “bells and

The biggest gain for companies using J2EE 1.4-supported applications, and
the developers making software for them, is Java Specification Request 109
(JSR-109), “Implementing Enterprise Web services.” The specification is led
by IBM and has garnered the attention and support of nearly every Web
services vendor, notably IBM’s biggest competitors in the application
server market — BEA Systems , Sun
and Oracle .

JSR-109 is a programming model for implementing a Web service, defining
everything from the server-side base classes and frameworks to specifying
new APIs. It also creates a model for running Web services on top of J2EE.

“What it says is, if I’m going to be using Java to create and actually
implement Web services, how am I playing as a good citizen with the rest of
my Java programs and how am I communicating with my back-end systems as
well,” Sutor said.

More important, the JSR is WS-I, or Web Services Interoperability
Organization, compliant. The organization is supported by vendors like IBM to create Web services applications that are platform, operating system and programming language agnostic.

Also included in J2EE 1.4 is support for the latest J2EE Connector Adapter (JCA) 1.5, the interface for disparate enterprise applications (like SAP or PeopleSoft
software) to speak with each other and the app server.

While IBM says it is the first major vendor to be J2EE 1.4 certified, that won’t last for long as the gap between the technology provided by app server vendors decreases. So while IBM might have a temporary lead on J2EE 1.4 certification, it means just as much as competitor BEA’s current claim of being years ahead of the competition. Earlier this year, consensus had IBM in a head-to-head matchup with BEA at number one, with Oracle and Sun running at a distance number two and three, respectively, in the application server market.

O’Grady said it’s getting to the point where application servers are a commodity, as more and more nuts and bolts functions are included on a machine that was once a separate computing process. While his company doesn’t delve into the numbers behind application server popularity, he sees it as a toss-up between IBM and BEA, with Oracle and Sun running behind the two market leaders.

While the application server is a means for different applications on the corporate intranet to communicate with each other, IDC published a
last week showing that more businesses are using application servers as a cost-cutting measure in order to automate their business processes.

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