Users Start Wrestling with Sun's Java 2 Spec

BOSTON (06/02/2000) - Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification was set in stone last December. But some users said they're just starting to grapple with how to implement the new development environment.

Cleveland-based drivetrain and engine component maker Eaton Corp. will keep its Java order-entry applications in their current nonstandard forms rather than migrating them to J2EE.

Chicago-based Bank One Corp. is implementing pieces of the specification it needs the most, with plans to add more in the coming months.

Mark Johnson, a vice president at Bank One's commercial division, said a team of 20 developers has been implementing the J2EE specification for servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP) and Java Database Connectivity (JDBC). The next step will be Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) and Java Message Service (JMS).

Premium-coffee kingpin Starbucks Corp. in Seattle designed a flexible application architecture to make it easier to plug new J2EE elements into its Web applications.

"Most of the work that we've done will be portable," said Michael Marshall, lead application architect at Starbucks. "We've structured [our applications] so that we could make changes, and the changes would only be in specific areas like the EJB or the JDBC abstract."

These examples illustrate the choices companies face with enterprise Java application development. They can use a limited set of elements and swap them out when possible, conduct a costly wholesale migration or continue to use old and new versions of Java.

J2EE, a set of specifications for building server-based Java applications, includes the EJB components; JSP, for displaying dynamic content in Web pages; and Java servlets, which are server-side Java components that perform functions such as gathering data from a database.

J2EE also includes interfaces to provide database access, transaction processing and other functions.

Sun hopes the J2EE set of specifications will make it easier for developers to write Web-based applications that will run on a wide range of server products.

Most major vendors have said they intend to support the specification.

"The J2EE spec is good because it takes a set of technologies and forces vendors to bend to support it, which in turn makes development easier in the future," said Clayton Ferguson, a project manager at Eaton. "But chances are that most of our Java apps will continue to run unmodified [with nonstandard code], even if we need to use separate machines to host those applications."

Meanwhile, many customers will adopt parts of the standard as they need them.

"Everyone wants to do JMS, EJB and JDBC, because they are the core [application programming interfaces]," said Carl Zetie, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Steve Garone, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts, said interest in the various elements of J2EE now varies based on customer needs. But for users developing enterprise applications, eventually "all the specs will come into play," he said.

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