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Expansion of the J2EE Universe
How are vendors' tools strategies changing with new J2EE market challenges?
by Steve Gillmor

Posted June 28, 2004

As Java fans gather in San Francisco for Sun Microsystems' annual JavaOne developer conference, the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) universe continues to expand. With 1.4 app servers shipping from most of the major vendors and construction underway on J2EE 1.5, the Java community has successfully absorbed Web services technologies and begun the push toward standardization of the service-oriented architecture (SOA) constructs that Web services and ubiquitous broadband adoption made possible.

Today the J2EE ecosystem revolves around two central conversations: one about community and the other about tools. With IBM, BEA, and JBoss the most visible (or verbal) open source proponents, the debate in the community about open source vs. standards permeates most vendor strategies. If there's any oxygen left over, it's devoted to the care and feeding of at least three classes of developers. More about that in a bit, but first…

A Little History
In this evolution from a bootstrapped set of unsynchronized proprietary innovations to a suite of standardized libraries, the J2EE platform has weathered a series of challenges both from within and without. What began as a last-ditch effort to create a credible competitor to the Microsoft desktop monopoly has morphed into a struggle for control of the realtime, events-based network operating system.

Java's network-aware lineage helped the early renditions of the platform survive against Microsoft's even more daunting challenges in migrating its developer and customer bases to the new realities of enterprise computing. As Redmond struggled to retain its potent Visual Basic community while evolving to Java-like productivity and security efficiencies of a managed code environment, Sun faced increasing pressure from its partners and competitors to surrender control of Java to the viral open source community.

IBM's success at commoditizing the operating system layer with its Linux investments only added to the tensions with Sun. Though Big Blue had contributed some 80 percent of the original J2EE code, the company now found it increasingly difficult to drive innovation through the Java Community Process (JCP). Ironically, IBM was having more success in cozying up to Microsoft around the XML Web services stack.

With the everybody-but-Sun Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) standards gambit, and simultaneously with the anybody-but-Sun Eclipse open source tools framework, IBM struck back against Sun. WS-I limped along until Sun finally was admitted, but Eclipse proved successful enough to draw Sun, BEA, and Oracle into launching the Java Tools Community. JTC proponents insist the group is not competitive with Eclipse, but IBM's refusal to join the group suggests otherwise.

IBM's next foray involved an open letter, immediately leaked to the media, which offered IBM's help in open sourcing Java. The approach reflected IBM's frustration with the JCP, but also a growing debate inside Sun about how to address both the opportunity and threat represented by open sourcing the Sun crown jewels.

At JavaOne 2002, CEO Scott McNealy announced Sun had agreed to change Java to make it compatible with the Apache license. In November 2003, Sun announced that Apache's Geronimo open source app server as well as the JBoss Group would license the J2EE certification test kit, as a result of the changes Sun had made to its licensing system.

At a J2EE 1.4 event in April 2004, JBoss CEO Marc Fleury called IBM's offer a trap, citing Sun's stewardship as central to keeping Java portability intact.

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