Although few corporate users have rushed to build Web services, that won't stop scores of vendors at next week's JavaOne conference from trying to convince them that their platforms are better for developing services than Microsoft's rival .Net environment.
Show sponsor Sun Microsystems, along with IBM and BEA Systems, will lead a charge of vendors announcing product enhancements and tools in support of Web services. Companies can use the services to integrate internal applications and link to business partners' external applications and services through XML-based messages sent via the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).
Microsoft's rivals see the conference as an important chance to silence critics who claim they've fallen behind in their support of emerging Web service technologies. Simon Phipps, Sun's chief Java technology evangelist, said the work on Web service standards through the Java Community Process took time. But "now at JavaOne, you're beginning to see the outpouring of announcements that flow from ... having defined standards for Web services."
Microsoft laid down the gauntlet earlier this year by asserting that its newly released Visual Studio .Net development environment provides the best and most economical platform for building Web services. And, said Microsoft, the .Net development environment already supports key standards.
Meanwhile, the Java forces have put out only an early access version of a Web services development pack, which contains application programming interfaces (API) for XML-based parsing, messaging and remote procedure calls. The Web services API pack will be built into the 1.4 edition of the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), but that's not expected to be finalized until the first quarter of 2003, Sun officials said.
Some industry analysts, however, said they expect the Java vendors to catch up to Microsoft within a year. "It's not a huge gap," said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "There's nothing that is going to kill Java. It's a done deal."
Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., agreed that the edge Microsoft tools have "will be eroded over the next year as products come to market." He said corporate users won't base their Web service platform decisions solely on tools; they'll also consider the platform's integration capabilities and robustness and scalability -- areas in which Java tends to be stronger.
Users also are wary of being locked into a single vendor's platform, Gilpin said. Microsoft's tools can be used to build applications that run on the Windows platform, while Java applications can run on a wide range of operating systems, although applications built on one platform typically need to be tweaked to run on another.
Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc., said .Net has an XML-based framework, whereas Java has a package of APIs. But "eventually, that should all work out," he said. From a technical standpoint, neither the Java nor the Microsoft camp will have a "knockdown" advantage in the long term, he said.
"The more important thing is that Web services are the same across both platforms, and more important to our customers is the fact that they have the ability to integrate between the Java platform and the Microsoft platform," Murphy said.
The Java faction's lag in support for Web service standards isn't a big factor now for corporate users, since few have gone beyond the exploration stage. Gilpin said he'd be surprised if work on Web services represents more than 1 percent of the development budget in the world right now.
Plummer predicted a surge of Web services tools built on Java will emerge next year. He said Java vendors will need to focus on crafting tools with Web services in mind.
"Working with Web services requires a different way of thinking about applications. It requires a different set of features and services, and to some degree, a different set of skills of developers," Plummer said. "If you just take a Java IDE [integrated development environment] and add SOAP to it, you're missing the point.
"Instead, they should be crafting part of the IDE that allows people to build services in a service-oriented fashion, with the idea that this is all about collaborative applications -- not about writing lines of code," Plummer said. "You have to think about processes that are being composited together as opposed to lines of code. That's where Microsoft has an advantage over the Java tools today."
Also coming up in the Web services arena next week:
-- On the Java front, BEA has a WebLogic Workshop tool that has garnered considerable buzz for the Microsoft-like way it attempts to ease the development of Web services. The San Jose-based software maker, which has one of the leading application servers, will announce that it has officially turned over its file format for describing Web servicesto Sun's Java Community Process for standardization, according to Tyler Jewell, BEA's director of technical evangelism.
-- IBM plans to launch a WebSphere Studio Integration Edition tool that gives developers a visual drag-and-drop environment to build applications or Web services that can connect Java applications to each other, to non-Java applications or to Web services. IBM is also shipping Version 4.1 of its WebSphere application server, which moved into a tie with BEA for first place in market share, according to data released this week by Giga.
-- IBM will also release a free private Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) registry that companies can use behind their firewalls to store information about the way applications interoperate with each other. According to Scott Crosby, WebSphere business process integration manager, IBM is responding to customers who want to experiment internally with Web services before they consider using public UDDI registries.
-- Sun's iPlanet software division plans to announce free updates to its Integration Server, which it claims will give it a more complete architecture for Web services. One new feature aims to allow even nontechnical employees to import Web Services Description Language files, which define what a Web service does in programmatic form. A new XML Adapter Designer can help users write code to transform data from its native application format to XML.