Store eyes .Net app in J2EE

Before the start of the upcoming holiday season, Woolworths Holdings Ltd. wanted to improve the capabilities of the Java-based data monitoring and alerting system it had hired an outside contractor to build. But the Cape Town, South Africa-based retailer had a problem.

The company didn’t want to spend more money contracting Java developers, who are hard to find and expensive to hire in South Africa, according to Marius Roets, system manager of integration solutions at Woolworths. And the retailer’s own developers were skilled in Microsoft Corp.’s development tools.

So Roets turned to a new tool from Mainsoft Corp. that promised to allow the developers to work in their familiar Visual Studio .Net environment yet deploy the application on Woolworths’ J2EE application and enterprise portal server software from Sybase Inc. From that point on, the major challenge for Roets became convincing skeptics that the Mainsoft product would work. “Our own developers and our internal systems managers didn’t believe it until I showed them how it works,” he said.

But Roets said Woolworths has encountered no major technology problems since commencing the project in July. The retailer plans to deploy the application in a production environment by the end of next month. To ensure that performance is optimal, Woolworths kept the application simple and let the J2EE application and portal servers handle security and data refreshes, Roets said.

Yaacov Cohen, CEO of San Jose-based Mainsoft, said Visual MainWin for J2EE installs on top of Visual Studio .Net and connects directly to J2EE application servers. Users work in Microsoft’s Visual Basic .Net or C# languages, and the Mainsoft tool compiles the code to Java byte code. The resulting Java class files are packaged into Java Archive files and deployed on a J2EE-based application server, he said. Mainsoft is targeting Visual MainWin at development shops that have a mix of J2EE and .Net developers. The company is releasing Version 1.5 of the product this month, and it is also working to promote Visual MainWin for J2EE as a means to allow .Net code to run on IBM’s eServer zSeries.

The MainWin tool comes bundled with the open-source Tomcat application server, but it also supports IBM’s WebSphere, BEA Systems Inc.’s WebLogic and JBoss Group Inc.’s open-source.

Roets said that Woolworths, which operates department stores in Africa and the Middle East, saved 80 per cent of the project cost by opting for the Visual MainWin approach over potential alternatives of hiring outside help or retraining its developers.

In addition to Visual MainWin, Woolworths considered the open-source Mono technology, which Novell Inc. acquired last year with Ximian Inc., and Stryon Inc.’s iNet software, which enables programs written in .Net to execute in any Java-enabled environment. But Roets said the retailer’s developers would have needed more Java knowledge to work with those tools.

Cohen readily acknowledged that Visual MainWin would not have been possible without the Mono project, to which Mainsoft developers contribute. The Mainsoft product rehosts Mono on top of J2EE and is designed for use in server-based applications.

Yet doubts linger about Visual MainWin for J2EE. “If you’re going to develop in .Net, especially if the application gets complex, you’re better off deploying it as .Net,” said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. “If you want to be on Java, you have to bite the bullet and take on Java.”

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