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Sun, rivals celebrate J2EE 1.4

Sun Microsystems marked the advent of Version 1.4 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) last week at a press event in San Francisco that featured most of the big names in Java tools and application servers, who gathered to discuss the impact of J2EE 1.4 on their products and markets. The app server panel included representatives from BEA, IBM, Oracle and Sun; open-source vendor JBoss Group; and two pure-play vendors: India's Pramati Technologies and Denmark's Trifork.

Mark Bauhaus, Sun's VP of Java Web services, described the group as a "nexus of what's happening with enterprise software." Seventy-five percent of enterprises are currently using J2EE, Bauhaus claimed, and he cited analyst statistics that suggest that the market is growing. And in a pointed nod to JBoss, with which Sun had been at heated odds on J2EE certification issues until an agreement was reached late last year, Bauhaus cited the "quite conscious" efforts of the J2EE community to "open up and really embrace" open source as one of the most significant developments in the J2EE space.

"The J2EE value proposition revolves around three things: choice, innovation and compatibility," Bauhaus said. "The whole notion of having compatibility in all parts of the market, including open source, is essential. If you are going to have innovation that is truly across the industry, involving many competitors, it has to include everybody."

This is the third major release of J2EE (preceded by Versions 1.2 and 1.3). According to Sun, J2EE 1.4 has so far spawned five compatible products since it was finalized last November, with 15 more confirmed development schedules. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based creator of Java also claimed more than 4 million downloads of the J2EE specification and Software Development Kit to date.

"What today is really about," said Sun's newly appointed EVP of software, John Loiacono, who moved into Jonathan Schwartz's position after his recent promotion to chief operating officer, "is the fusion of Java and Web services."

Loiacono also pointed to the assembled competitors as proof that recent rumblings about a coming fragmentation within the Java community are just noise. "Is there controversy? Is there passion around individual components and technologies that companies are developing? Absolutely!" he said. "But we think that's healthy. It's a diverse community with diverse opinions, and we are leveraging that diversity as an asset."

Moderator Shawn Willett, analyst at Current Analysis, opened the discussion by posing the question, "Why should anyone be excited about J2EE 1.4?"

The big news in this release for BEA's Mike McHugh, VP of engineering for WebLogic Server, is the way 1.4 standardizes how Web services are developed and deployed on application servers. "It focuses right on the portability of the services themselves," he said. "That's a key issue of our customer base, and we're all for it."

But in more general ways, the biggest and most important changes in J2EE 1.4 address Web services, said Pramati CTO Vijay Pullur. Sun has even called it the "Web services release" because it includes support for the WS-I's Basic Profile conventions for interoperability; it also implements both the Java API for XML-based RPC (JAX-RPC) and the Enterprise Web services specification (JSR 109) in the Java Community Process (JCP). Pramati Technologies of India also announced that its J2EE-compatible application server will be certified for J2EE Version 1.4 in Q3 2004.

For IBM's Mark Heid, program director for WebSphere, the excitement of the 1.4 release is in the plug-ability of connectors, especially for legacy systems. "We have a long history of mainframes," Heid said, alluding to the recently celebrated 40th anniversary of Big Blue's legendary System/360 mainframe, "and 1.4 is now at a point where our customers can fully integrate their legacy systems as they pursue our SOA [Service-Oriented Architecture] vision."

Trifork CTO Kresten Krab Thorup weighed in on the future of SOAs, which he viewed as a key facilitator of "whole new classes of solutions" that are made possible because of the new infrastructure that SOA provides. "There is such a diverse set of systems out there that have to be integrated," he said. "Now there's finally a standard where we can agree across platforms how to interoperate. It's not like we're going to go out and re-architect all the existing systems. This is the technology that will enable a new class of applications on top of what we already have." Trifork expects to ship its J2EE 1.4-compatible Java application server in July 2004, Thorup added.

"The big innovation in J2EE 1.4 as far as we are concerned," opined JBoss Group CEO Marc Fleury, "is that Sun has finally come up with a model that is agreeable to everybody, where open-source implementers can now participate. I think it's a [testament] to the strength of this community that it can not only survive, but also thrive with the presence of pure open-source players. I'm very impressed that there is a model that includes open-source players, and that the model is stable. It's a good thing."

The outspoken Fleury also fielded the inevitable question on the open-sourcing of Java -- a hot topic since IBM issued an open letter last month calling on Sun to join an effort to turn its proprietary Java code over to the open-source community.

"I think it's crap," Fleury said. "Don't do it Sun! It's a trap!" When the laughter died down, he added: "Frankly, I just don't see a net gain in open-sourcing Java. The standard has to be tightly owned. The great success of Java has been [the result] of Sun's stewardship and superb implementation of the virtual machine. The superb portability of virtual machines today is what has made Java, period."

IBM's Heid declined to comment, saying only that his company was currently in "preliminary discussions with Sun about the letter." The letter in question was sent in March to Rob Gingell, chief technology officer of Sun's software group, by IBM's VP of emerging technologies Rod Smith.

Sun also disclosed plans to preview J2EE 1.5 during its annual JavaOne developer conference next month in San Francisco. The 1.5 version is expected to include additional support for Web services and to build in more ease-of-use features. Also expected in 1.5 are annotations, persistence aspects and EJB 3.0.

Steve Wilson, Sun's director of engineering for the core developer platform in the Developer Platform Group, told eADT that the 1.5 preview will coincide with the official release of Sun's Java Studio Creator tool (formerly known as Project Rave). Creator is currently in early access release and available for download at http://wwws.sun.com/software/products/jscreator/, with more than 20,000 downloads so far, Wilson said. Sun expects to announce the full release of J2EE 1.5 in mid-2005.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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