Web-based computing services are expected to be featured prominently at Sun Microsystems Inc.'s JavaOne conference in San Francisco next week, following the launch earlier this year of the company's strategy for supporting applications that can share functionality via the Internet.
The new style of developing applications aims to ease content delivery to a variety of computing devices equipped with different operating systems. But while Sun beats the drum for its newer initiatives, several users said this week that they're still tackling old issues, such as single sign-on technology and code reuse, while also trying to contend with product updates.
Sun's Web services plan, called the Sun One Net Environment, supports the use of component architectures to make applications available to PCs, handheld pagers and cellular phones. Based on Java and XML, the environment is due to be gradually rolled out during the next two years as a rival to Microsoft Corp.'s .Net technology and similar offerings from Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp.
Some users have started building Java-based applications that exploit Web services or are laying the underlying groundwork for such projects. For example, Michael Taschuk, director of Web solutions at employee benefits provider CitiStreet, said the division of Citigroup Inc. in New York has begun using XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol as a precursor to developing Web services.
A Web services infrastructure would support much-needed single sign-on capabilities, according to Taschuk. "The biggest issues we're facing are central security and single sign-on for users," he said, adding that the need for single sign-on has increased with the growth of Web-based applications. "Every department has built their own applications to access business data with their own user validation information," Taschuk said.
At last year's JavaOne conference, vitriol over whether IBM had officially licensed the rights to use Sun's Java specifications was spouted back and forth by the two vendors. Sun later acknowledged that IBM holds a perpetual license to the technology, but the friction between the two most prominent Java vendors continues to pose a concern for some users.
"The Java language is still evolving," said Haydon Harrison, a developer at a major farm equipment manufacturer in the Midwest that uses IBM's VisualAge tools and WebSphere application server. One of the problems related to the ongoing evolution is that tools "tend to lag behind on direct changes to Java," Harrison said. "I'm waiting for WebSphere and VisualAge to catch up."
Chuck Grindel, a software engineer at Boston-based online health insurance claims processor NaviMedix Inc., said he considered switching to a Java-based environment and IBM's WebSphere last year, but finally opted for Microsoft's development tools instead.
"We decided to go with Microsoft, as opposed to Java," Grindel said. The case IBM made for its Java products at JavaOne last year wasn't compelling enough, he added. But even NaviMedix hasn't made the jump to Web services thus far. "We don't do anything .Net yet, Grindel said. "We're using the older technology, but the platform is performing."