Since its first release a few years back, the Java programming language has caught the attention of many developers and companies, and IBM Corp. is no different.

According to Joe Damassa, vice-president of application development marketing for IBM’s Software Solutions group in Somers, N.Y., with over 3,800 developers using IBM’s Java tools the company has placed a lot of trust in the language.

Damassa was at the recent JavaOne Developers Conference in San Francisco where the company announced its new beta version of VisualAge for Java, Professional Edition, a programming environment for building Java-based enterprise applications. ComputerWorld Canada assistant editor Karen Hill had the opportunity to speak with Damassa about the significance of IBM’s latest release.

CWC: When will VisualAge for Java Beta Version 3.0. be available and how significant is the product, compared to the previous version?

Damassa: The Beta 3.0 version is available for download off our Web site today. It will be generally available in Q4.

In VisualAge 3.0 we’ve announced very tight integration with DB2, so we have wizards that help you build stored procedures that run in DB2, which help with security and performance. We also have support for SQL Java, which is the Java version of SQL to access the database. So it’s a very tight marriage of the tools with the runtime.

We also have Enterprise JavaBeans available in VisualAge on the palette that actually access and update databases on DB2, and in the Beta 3.0 version we are also including a technology preview for a Linux version of VisualAge for Java and also for our Java 2 version. So we’re just trying to create support for more platforms.

CWC: Java has been around for a few years but there’s still a lot of hype around the programming language. Do you think that is nearing its end?

Damassa: When I look back on the industry, around 10 years ago we had multimedia and that was the big technology buzz word. And there were conferences about multimedia and there were articles written about the technology. It turned into a common component of everything — so PCs had multimedia capabilities, software had multimedia capabilities, every piece of technology embedded multimedia. It wasn’t a separate category. It was an underlying technology.

And so I think new technologies start with the hype, the buzz, the focus on the technology and pretty soon it becomes pervasive, everybody’s doing it, it gets incorporated into the technology. We see the same thing going on with XML now. It’s probably the latest technology that’s being hyped and the same transition is going to occur. At some point we’re going to stop focusing on answering the question of what are you doing in XML, because the question is now, what aren’t you doing in XML? The same thing goes for Java today — the question is, what aren’t you doing in Java and why?

CWC:With respect to Java standardization, IBM had a big push going for Sun Microsystems to hand Java over to a standards body. Where do you stand on that issue today?

Damassa: We need the competitiveness and the stewardship of a company like Sun or IBM to get things started, whether it’s Java or XML or other technologies. When you hit the point in time when you’ve matured the technology — probably where we are today in Java — then we feel it’s time to hand it over to a standards body to manage the maturity and the growth of that technology.

So it’s not that we say all this technology should be owned by a standards body, we say there’s a point-in-time that you should transfer the stewardship of the technology to a standards body and I think our view is that Java has approached that point in time.

CWC:Where should developers be focusing their attention in the next two or three years?

Damassa: We think there are a couple of trends going on. One is the trend towards open Internet standards, so developers should learn Java and XML. As enterprises look to implement e-business solutions, they’re doing it from the base of a very heterogeneous environment so they’re demanding open standards. They’re not going to rewrite their existing legacy systems to be all Microsoft or all Sun or all somebody else.

Second, there’s a couple trends we see in the area of component-based development that say the most efficient application is one you don’t write but basically assemble from pre-built components. So developers need to start thinking about object-analysis and modelling tools to do object-based development.

CWC: Security was once a big issue surrounding Java. Are there limitations to Java today?

Damassa: I think we’re getting to the point where people are satisfied with performance. At first, Java was just client-side but Sun has evolved it to the server, but I think we’ll always look to increase the performance and move it more in terms of the transaction area.

As well, there’s tons of development going on to create tools around Java and those just need to start hitting the market, and that will create another explosion in productivity in Java.

I think the features and functions are coming along nicely and the issue is that if it’s missing something today, it’s not like you’re swinging without a safety net. You know if you need high levels of security that Java doesn’t deliver today, if you need high levels of transaction throughput that Java doesn’t deliver today, you can use mature technologies and front-end them with Java on the second-tier server and on the client-side.

CWC:Sun’s Java 2 offering has caught a lot of attention. What are your thoughts on the platform?

Damassa: Obviously we’re working very closely with Sun to define what goes in it and address the new needs as we push Java to be used in new environments. So I think they’ve got a lot of good features and functions in [Java 2].

We’ve got a number of very large customers that are doing mission-critical things on the 1.1.x base of Java and we’ve done a lot of good work to get excellent performance and reliability and throughput. Now as they look at Java 2 they say, ‘Okay, I like what you’re telling me about the new features, but I’m not going to change what I’m doing until I can get the same or better level of performance and reliability and scalability that’s demonstrated in this release (1.1.x).’ So…they don’t want to cause a disruption, they don’t want to have to go through the administration of upgrades.

CWC: I heard those same sentiments from talking to some Canadian developers. Most of them said they’re unsure whether upgrading to Java 2 is going to cause a disruption. When do you think the majority of people will upgrade?

Damassa: Java 2 is a spec until somebody turns it into a product that a customer can actually install and use. When you get feedback from customers you can improve the product and address some of these issues. So I think we’re talking probably at least a product cycle and so next year I think sometime is when we’ll see the results of that in the marketplace.