April 5, 1999
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Third of 3 Parts
With more companies calling for Web application technology, some of the biggest vendors are realizing the benefits of offering platforms--and giving the market a boost
By Gautam Desai, Joe Fenner, Jeetu Patel, and Mark Schenecker of Doculabs, and Sean Gallagher of InformationWeek
The technology is showing up in a growing number of IT budgets, and the major information technology vendors are following the money. Today, all the large system software and infrastructure vendors offer Web application servers and development environments.
In some cases, the components of these solutions have become an integrated part of the vendors' operating systems, as in the case of Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 and, now, Apple Computer's new Mac OS X Server operating system. This movement has created plenty of awareness for Web application servers as a product category, and has given a boost to the young market. It has also lowered the cost of entry into the Web application space in some cases, and has opened up the category to thousands of developers skilled in building applications for the platforms provided by these vendors.
The trend continues. Lotus Development's next version of its Domino groupware server will, when finally released, essentially turn the platform into a full-fledged application server. Novell is also getting into the market. Its next release of NetWare 5 will provide an enhanced Java platform and bundled application-server software (like IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WebDB and Oracle 8i database, and Netscape's Web servers), along with a highly scalable version of its Novell Directory Services--turning the company's file server into a potential player in the application server market.
There are scores of other vendors releasing Web application servers that we were unable to review within the scope of this series. As the market continues to grow, a consolidation of vendors is almost assured.
In last week's article (March 29, p. 61), we reviewed products from independent software vendors. This week, we take a closer look at Web application servers from major software and infrastructure vendors, as well as products from vendors that provide middleware components.
These vendors include operating system vendors Apple Computer, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems, as well as major vendors of infrastructure applications and transaction processing servers, including BEA Systems, Inprise, Netscape, Oracle, and Sybase.
Although Apple may not fit the mold of a traditional enterprise software or infrastructure vendor, the company is still a major force in the computer industry. By purchasing Next, Apple acquired that company's WebObjects application server and development environment. WebObjects is a powerful server that uses an object-oriented approach to development. The server and tools provide strong support for object technologies such as Component Object Model, Corba, and Enterprise JavaBeans, as well as connectivity to a variety of back-end systems.
Overall, the product offers a lot of functionality and features for enterprise developers, allowing them to create robust Web applications rapidly on the solid foundation of the WebObjects application server. The server's architecture is one of the most sophisticated and technically sound in this market.
WebObjects 4 provides a well-defined abstraction layer between the data, data logic, business logic, and presentation logic, with separate development modules for each layer. Although the product requires skilled developers, it simplifies matters greatly for developers who understand object-oriented programming. Development is done in either Java or Objective-C. Java provides a good balance between standards-based development and performance. Objective-C provides better performance but requires special development expertise.
BEA Systems is best known for its Tuxedo middleware transaction monitor. The company has made some attempts at entering the Web application market, and recently acquired WebLogic and its Tengah Application Server. This acquisition bolstered BEA's commitment to bringing powerful transaction management capabilities to Web technology.
The WebLogic application server--which we reviewed last year, when it was still known as the Tengah Application Server (June 22, 1998, p. 63)--is a Web application server, pure and simple. It lacks an integrated development environment, instead catering to experienced developers who know Java inside and out. The product is open enough to let developers use other development environments, such as JBuilder, Visual Café, or VisualAge.
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