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As J2EE 1.4 debuts, focus moves to tools

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Sun Microsystems last week marked the advent of Version 1.4 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) at a press event in San Francisco that featured most of the big names in Java tools and application servers. A tools panel included representatives from Borland, BEA, IBM, Oracle and Sun, who shared the stage and discussed the impact of J2EE 1.4 from a tooling perspective, and speculated on emerging trends in the tools market. Additions to J2EE 1.4 include improvements in Web services support.

The members of the panel agreed that new functionality around deployment and simplification in Version 1.4, which was finalized last November, will make J2EE easier to use across tools. Benjamin Renaud, deputy CTO at BEA, called it a "great achievement," but added that there is still plenty of work for toolmakers in the areas of converging and standardizing on tools.

Ease of use was something of a theme of the discussion, and virtually all of the vendors laid claim to improved usability in their J2EE tooling. Version 1.4, said Joe Keller, VP of Java software marketing at Sun, provides toolmakers with a richer environment in which to build tools that help developers.

"Development isn't this linear progression from requirements on down," Keller said. "In a large enterprise, it's about building a toolset that is agile and being able to take the project at whatever state it's in and putting some semblance of order around it. The challenge for all of us up here is to build the kind of tooling that can deal with that world."

George Paolini, VP and GM of developer tools at Borland, suggested that J2EE developers in particular need to understand their work within the context of the enterprise as a whole. The tools, he said, should provide that context. "You need to provide the developer with context," he said. "Developers need to understand the ramifications of the applications they are building."

Probably the biggest changes in J2EE 1.4 address Web services. 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).

Sun is doing its part to make Web development easy, Keller said, pointing to his company's nascent Java Studio Creator (formerly known as Project Rave). "It's the goal of Creator to a deliver a much simpler set of tools that allows people to get access to this technology and just use them very easily," he said. "We believe that making it all dead simple is the right approach to promoting usage."

Asked about how the tool vendors will differentiate in a world of converging and standardized tools, Ted Farrell, chief architect and senior director of strategy for application development at Oracle, said it will boil down to who has the best-designed tool.

"It's true that we're all doing the same thing, and in a lot of cases we're all using the same data," Farrell said, "but we're doing it in very different very ways. As tool vendors, we have to innovate to capture your business. It's not just about whose is the easiest; it's whose is the most appealing. In a lot of cases, it won't be an absolute. That's why we feel that it's important to standardize this data and not standardize the tools."

On the subject of the newly formed Java Tools Community (JTC), a multivendor effort to promote interoperability between Java development tools, the panel was divided. Neither IBM nor Borland have joined the group, while BEA, Oracle and Sun are members. Eric Naiburg, group manager of desktop products at IBM, emphasized his company's commitment to Eclipse, the open-source framework for interoperable tool development.

Borland's Paolini said that the JTC should make itself open to outside voices. "In order to have the influence that it needs to have on J2EE," he said, "which is really server-based technology that does not take into account the toolability on the design side as much as it should. We need a more formalized process. I think the JTC itself needs to have the ability to accept other voices outside the community that can influence the process and make it more agile. And I see it as a great way to prototype that kind of process."

BEA's Renaud reminded the audience that these are still the "early days" of tools standardization. "The JTC has the right momentum to make something happen there," he said. "But this is early work. People need to keep an eye on the standards effort, watching who's doing what in this space, and going with the tools that best serve their purposes for now."

According to Sun, J2EE 1.4 has so far spawned five compatible products, 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.

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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