The Enhydra open-source application server may become a more viable option for companies building e-commerce applications to check out as it nears support for the latest Java enterprise technology.
A beta version of Enhydra 3.0 supports Enterprise JavaBeans components and several other key pieces of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology, which developers are increasingly using when creating three- or multitier server-based e-commerce applications.
The developer of the Enhydra Java/XML application server - Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Lutris Technologies which also provides consulting and technical services for building Web applications - released Enhydra to the open-source community in January 1999. But the early product was geared to help developers connect clients to only one server, said Keith Bigelow, director of product management at Lutris.
The new version, which can be load-balanced, will let companies build more complex applications that include multiple server-to-server links, Bigelow said.
"Until they get the J2EE in there and management facilities, [Enhydra] isn't a competitive application server," said Craig Roth, an analyst at Meta Group.
Roth cautioned that for large corporate users, the application server "is too essential a part of an e-commerce site to trust to something that's open-source and comes from a smaller company."
Yet some users are finding that open-source application servers can offer significant benefits to skilled developers.
Ryan Fife, a technology strategist at AnywhereYouGo.com, a hub site started by People Design Technology said he can identify and fix application bugs more easily than he could using commercial products.
Fife said he once might have spent a day or two tracking a bug before learning from the vendor that it was a product problem.
"Since it's open-source, the community around it is much more involved than I found with [commercial] products," he said. "The open-source community really helps you [to] not sit around spinning your wheels and get around to writing productive code."
Fife said he likes to track the evolution of the application server code, so he will have the flexibility to use incremental builds of the product, rather than being forced into all-or-nothing upgrades from commercial vendors.
"The application server market now is very immature. No matter how many big, important things IBM or Microsoft want to sell you, no one has it figured out 100 percent," said Victor Brilon, another technology strategist at AnywhereYouGo.com.
Chandresh Shah, vice president of marketing and business development at i-engineering.com, a portal, said many companies start out buying expensive software only to find it inadequate for their needs. They then must make extensive modifications.
Both Shah and Brilon cautioned, however, that any companies considering using Enhydra should have a development team experienced in using Java and XML.
The biggest deficiency in the product, Shah said, is its lack of ease of use.
One helpful feature, Fife said, is Enhydra's XMLCompiler, which lets him take a pure HTML file and separate the presentation layer from the business logic.
Other open-source application servers include Zope (www.zope.org) and the PHP open-source scripting language and Zend engine (www.zend.com).