IBM Sows Seeds for Java's Growth

IBM Corp., arguably the single most significant player among the backers of Java, is focusing its technical and political resources on pushing Java toward viability as a staple of enterprise computing.

Big Blue has plotted an ambitious course for 1999, with plans encompassing tools, middleware, application servers, network devices, and many other areas.

Given the breadth of its resources and its relatively quick response to recent market trends, IBM is uniquely positioned to foster Java's evolution into a scalable enterprise platform, according to Steve Garone, an analyst at International Data Corp., a market research company in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Of special interest to IBM is the merging of the Java language and platform with the distributed computing services of the Object Management Group's (OMG's) CORBA.

Java APIs are an appropriate and effective way to access CORBA services, according to Ian Brackenbury, IBM distinguished engineer and chief scientist at IBM U.K. Laboratories in Hursley Park, England.

Hailing the inclusion of a basic CORBA object request broker (ORB) in Sun Microsystems' Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.2, also now called Java 2, Brackenbury cautioned that much work remains in wedding CORBA and Java.

"There's a need to improve coordination between the OMG and Sun, and we're willing to help feed CORBA services into the JDK," Brackenbury said.

Brackenbury reiterated the virtues of pairing Java and CORBA technologies, citing the just-completed integration of Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI) and CORBA Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP). This integration allows developers to leverage the simpler RMI interfaces to use the cross-language, cross-platform IIOP protocol for distributed interapplication communication.

To further the integration of the two technologies, the OMG in 1999 plans to release its CORBA model, which is compatible with Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB).

Brackenbury also stressed that work remains to be done to allow tools vendors to exploit the Java platform and language in a more consistent and efficient manner.

There are common ways of leveraging the Java platform and language that can be standardized to spare individual tools vendors from having to reinvent them, which can compromise Java's portability and ease of use, Brackenbury said.

"There's a benefit if we take pieces of well-understood processes and make them standard elements of Java," Brackenbury said. "You want vendors to concentrate on adding value."

Potential standard interfaces include hooks into OSes for "single-stepping," or executing programs one instruction at a time; a common debugging interface; and a common file format for analyzing class files, Brackenbury explained.

Another critical Java initiative on IBM's agenda is the integration of Java and CORBA-based applications with component models such as Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed COM (DCOM) services.

According to James Russell, senior IBM research manager for Java technology, IBM could allow Java/CORBA developers to tap into COM/DCOM services via a CORBA-COM bridge, but IBM has worked out other, unspecified methods as well.

In addition to these goals, IBM's concrete plans for 1999 include releasing versions of its VisualAge profilers, debuggers, and deployment toolkits for writing applications that run on embedded devices and handheld computers. These tools are slated for release in the first half of the year, said Scott Hebner, manager of application development for IBM's software solutions group. (See "IBM plans app dev tools for small devices," www.infoworld.com/printlinks.)Separately, IBM's Internet media group is working with Sun on Java Media Framework 2.0. It is set for release this month, with a final specification expected in mid-1999.

IBM's Big Blueprint for Java in 1999

-- Improve Java-CORBA integration by marrying Java APIs to CORBA services-- Integrate with Microsoft's COM and other proprietary object services/component models-- Emphasize legacy integration, add connectors from second-tier platforms to back ends; continue to pressure Sun to hand over Java standards stewardship to a neutral standards body and further open Java licensing terms and process of technical evolution-- Beef up IBM San Francisco application frameworks, providing EJB compatibility; push adoption of San Francisco custom containers among other application server vendors, targeting corporate developers in addition to ISVs-- Develop better, easier-to-use Java tools-- Push standards for tools vendors to write to the Java platform and language-- Release, with Sun, the Java Media Framework 2.0 specification for comment by the middle of this month; distribute it in mid-1999

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