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Release Of New Java Spec May Not Be Cause For Celebration

Sun Microsystems and partners have a J2EE 1.4 kickoff event next week, but some vendors seem more nonchalant about adopting the new spec than they had in the past.

Sun Microsystems and a host of other Java software vendors plan to promote the official release of J2EE 1.4 Monday at an event at the W Hotel in San Francisco. But such fanfare begs the question of whether a new version of the Java standard for building enterprise-scale applications -- which was finalized in November, about a year after its initially planned release date -- is really cause for celebration.

Sun, BEA Systems, IBM, Oracle, JBoss and several other companies will take part in panel discussions Monday about the importance of J2EE 1.4 compatibility and the new technologies available in the spec. Several companies also are expected to commit to releasing J2EE 1.4-compatible application servers by the end of the year. Oracle and Sun already have released application servers compatible with J2EE 1.4.

However, solution providers said the requirement for application servers to be compatible with the most up-to-date J2EE spec is no longer something about which vendors should boast; it is expected from them if they want to sell Java infrastructure software.

"My own sense is that people don't pay nearly as much attention to these standards flag-waving ceremonies as they used to," said Brad Murphy, a senior vice president at Paris-based solution provider Valtech.

When software vendors started standardizing on J2EE in 2000, it made sense for companies like BEA Systems and IBM to race to certify their app servers so they could be first to market with one that meets the latest spec, Murphy said. But that's all changed now, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, often vendors include new technology in their application servers that is ahead of the J2EE standard, because finalizing the next J2EE spec -- which goes through the Java Community Process, the standards process overseen by Sun -- takes time. "People are innovating ahead of the curve," Murphy said, making J2EE compatibility less of a reason to be proud.

Furthermore, customers expect vendors to be J2EE-compliant if they even want their application servers considered for enterprise deployment, he said

"People care differently than they did before," Murphy said. "Meeting the spec is not optional, and meeting the spec does not get you a pat on the back because people expect it. If you don't meet the spec, you don't get to play."

Shawn Willett, principal analyst for Current Analysis, Sterling, Va., agreed that J2EE compatibility has become rather commonplace in the industry. However, he said, Sun wants to promote J2EE 1.4 because some vendors seem more nonchalant about adopting the new spec than they had in the past.

"In the past if you remember with [J2EE] 1.3, vendors rushed to get their app servers in line with the latest spec," Willett said. "This time it hasn't been as much of a rush."

The lack of urgency is partly because of the aforementioned scenario of vendors being ahead of the spec, "so it's not as dire of a need" to ramp up to J2EE 1.4, Willett said. That is, some app server vendors already included some of J2EE 1.4's required technologies -- such as various Java APIs for Web services and support for Basic Profile 1.0 from the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) -- in their own commercial application servers.

Willett also said some solution providers and customers that are building and deploying applications on J2EE 1.3 are still "digesting" that version of the standard, and thus are not as apt to embrace the new spec right away.

Still, Willett thinks J2EE 1.4 compatibility is important for Java app server vendors to achieve in the near term, especially because of the spec's requirement to support Web services not only through Java APIs, but also through the Basic Profile, which provides guidelines for implementing various Web services standards such as SOAP and WSDL across IT infrastructure that utilizes disparate technologies.

"If users roll out 1.4 they can ensure Web services will work without problem across the organization," Willett said. "There is a lot of value in 1.4, especially if customers are mixing and matching application servers from different vendors. It will really enable Web services to a much higher degree."

Willett said Sun also has a vested interest in pushing J2EE 1.4 because the company, which invented and owns the Java brand and related licensing, thinks the evolution of the standard is a boon for the adoption of the technology among developers.

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