Will IBM/BEA Collaboration Rile Rivals?

IBM and BEA Systems are sending three J2EE specifications addressing server portability to the Java Community Process (JCP) for review.

The JCP, a standards-setting body created by Sun Microsystems to bring consistency to the Java programming language, is made up of individual developers and businesses throughout the world.

It will decide next week whether to include the IBM/BEA specifications: Service Data Objects (SDO), Work Manager for Application Servers and Timer for Application Servers as Java Specification Requests (JSR).

If the JCP board approves the specifications as a standard, a committee (usually chaired by the specification’s authors) will mold it into a working standard for the Java community.

Industry watchers say the move could meet resistance from other application server vendors, notably Sun Microsystems , Oracle and SAP , who might take issues with a possible de facto standardization of the software.

What makes this proposal unique, said Stephen O’Grady, an analyst at Redmonk, is that two of the largest application server vendors have gotten together to create the specifications.

When one vendor puts the code into their product line, that’s one thing, and fairly common within the industry, he said. But it’s different with two market leaders, he said.

“Between these two companies, you have a significant number of the customers out there, so while it’s not de facto standardization it’s probably as close as you’re going to get,” O’Grady said. “Other parties may feel that this is something that is being imposed on them, that this is a shortcutting of the standardization process.”

“I would not be surprised if they’re not particularly pleased,” he added.

While it can be argued that this is what the JCP is for — to get everybody’s input and modify code before it’s standardized — if a majority of businesses around the world are already using the specification IBM & BEA have made, it will make radical changes to the code difficult.

IBM and BEA will make early code versions available to independent software vendors (ISVs) next week. Support for the specifications, however, won’t come until next year when they are incorporated into WebSphere and WebLogic Server.

The SDO was created by the two companies after six to nine months of development, and is a unified programming model for data stored as XML, in relational databases or other data sources.

It’s not uncommon for companies to release a specification before the JCP has ratified it, said Scott Dietzen, BEA’s CTO. Oftentimes, it takes up to two years to complete the standardization process — which is usually one or two product upgrades for software companies — and comes out looking different than what the authors’ intended.

“When you try to do the standard right out of the gate, and you get 10 or 20 companies together there to try to design something from scratch, that’s when the standards process seems to get in trouble and not deliver the most effective solutions,” Dietzen said.

The three specs improve the way applications run on two different application server platforms. The Timer and Work Manager for Application Servers are APIs that let J2EE applications, servlets and enterprise Java Beans
schedule concurrent tasks or schedule tasks for future runtime.

Sun officials didn’t seem concerned or angered over the announcement, despite analyst worries. The company, which founded the JCP to standardize the Web application language it helped create, says that input from any company only helps the Java community.

“We are glad that IBM and BEA will be contributing their early work as input into JCP standardization efforts,” said Corina Ulescu, Sun spokesperson. “As always, the Java community will work to build strong standards based on the diverse needs and inputs of the whole Java community.”

Developers can download the specifications at IBM’s alpha
and BEA’s Dev2Dev sites as early as Monday.

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