Sun gets creative with Java

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Java has struggled with the perception of being less productive and more complex than Microsoft technologies — in particular .Net. Many Java vendors have developed tools designed to bridge this gap. Sun is one of the newest to this game with its Java Studio Creator (JSC) and has become more active in the market, trying to regain lost luster.

META Trend: The number of vendors providing a credible software infrastructure services stack to build, integrate, deploy, and manage enterprise applications will stabilize through 2005/06. To reduce risk, organizations will evaluate a broader platform (covering Web services, application development, enterprise application integration [EAI], business process automation, portals, security, data management, and content management). Delivering this platform will be critical to the vendors’ attempts to expand their footprints within strategic accounts during 2004-06, and will cause cross-category competition in areas where vendors provide functional overlap.

Developer productivity is the constant target of most commercial development tools. The move from client/server to Internet applications has introduced new levels of complexity to application design and development, often negatively impacting productivity. This has certainly been the perception with J2EE. Sun has recently shipped its JSC product and joins others in delivering tools designed to provide productivity similar to Visual Basic in the Java environment. Derived from its NetBeans open source project, the tool is focused on building Web applications, using standard Java functionality without the need for additional frameworks.

The battle for developer mind share will continue at a fever pitch during 2004-06, as each of the platform vendors seeks to solidify and grow market share and to pre-empt Microsoft’s drive toward its Longhorn platform and associated technologies. In addition, the shift toward Web services and composite applications will create new competitors in the market, as package vendors such as SAP and software-as-service vendors like approach the market from alternative vectors. By 2007/08, the market will have shifted to three key development elements using the model-view-controller pattern:

Forms: The view is defined with XML using visual construction tools.

Services: The model elements are defined with traditional systems languages like Java or C# or by wrapping legacy systems.

Scripts: The controller will be driven by dynamic scripting languages (e.g., Groovy or the evolution of Visual Basic) performing composition, workflow, translation, and event management.

Through 2009, this churn of technology will improve overall productivity but will also keep IT organizations busy with changing paradigms and technology platforms. Several vendors have attacked the J2EE complexity issue. Many of these solutions have been created by startups that have come and gone, often failing because of the use of non-standard Java technologies. Such products rely on vendor-supplied runtime frameworks, and betting on a small vendor presents too high a risk for an unproven reward. In addition, many of these products have been targeted to traditional Java developers that are often more code-focused and that resist having their “craft” trivialized or made “easy.”

Prior to the release of .Net, the market direction was strong toward moving all development to Java. However, as Java complexity rose to meet the needs of distributed applications and .Net appeared, many former Visual Basic developers pushed to stay with Microsoft to retain productivity and to make use of existing skills. In addition, interoperability through Web services enabled this to not be an either/or decision. For main Java tools and platform vendors (e.g., BEA, Borland, IBM, Oracle), this created a renewed need to address the Java productivity gap. However, Sun was a bit dormant (2000-03) tool wise, though it was not a pure tool issue, and most solutions tended to require proprietary extensions to Java. When IBM released its Eclipse project to open source, it quickly gained market momentum and obscured Sun’s open source NetBeans project. Currently, Eclipse has become a dominant integrated development environment (IDE) platform for Java development, supported by numerous third parties and used by multiple vendors as the foundation for their development environments. Through all this, nothing has really occurred to blunt the fast adoption of .Net in the marketplace. META Group research finds that .Net use is growing from 24 per cent of organizations in deployment in 2003 to greater than 60 per cent by the end of 2004, while Java (which is more mature in the market) will move from 48 per cent of organizations deployed to 72 per cent during the same period. Such figures, along with additional data, emphasize the point that most organizations will use both technologies.

Sun Throws a Rave

In 2003, Sun announced project Rave, a new attempt to bring simplified development with the productivity of Visual Basic to Java. This project would focus on using only technology that was part of the standard Java distribution and would use a similar development approach to Visual Basic. This product has now been delivered as JSC. It does meet the goal of making it relatively easy to build Web applications that connect dynamic pages built with Java Server Faces (JSF) joined to databases and Web services. However, though the product is built on a mature foundation, it is still far from the polish of Visual Basic. In many ways, the product more closely resembles Microsoft WebMatrix because of its focus on database-oriented Web applications. Despite these issues, the ability to assemble pages, define page flow, and connect to data is strong. Although JSC eliminates the clutter in other IDEs that may overwhelm others that are new to Java, Sun must deliver a cohesive product set that will enable teams of developers using its Java Studio Enterprise (JSE) to readily collaborate with developers using JSC. This will include the ability to manage projects, sources, and builds in a coordinated fashion. Because both product lines are built on top of NetBeans, this should occur as JSE migrates to the upcoming NetBeans 4.0 product release. Unlike Borland, IBM, or Oracle, Sun lacks its own integrated life-cycle support, relying instead on partners or more basic open source options (e.g., CVS for version control versus IBM Rational’s market-leading ClearCase product).

It is also questionable as to what audience will be attracted to JSC. The product does not have the breadth of Visual Basic either in function or in choice of components. JSF’s relative newness to the market means there are few mature third-party components and fewer out-of-the-box (e.g., 50 for Microsoft, 23 for JSF) components. However, this will change with time. We expect that the primary interest for JSC will be for the educational market, along with hobbyist or small departmental Web sites in Java-centric organizations. The majority of developers will be attracted to full-feature environments like Borland’s JBuilder that include support for JSF and drag-and-drop database connectivity, without being limited to Web applications and that have a full integrated life-cycle suite backing them up. In the same fashion, Sun’s JSE product should gain broader overall adoption, though this will ultimately depend on the marketing effort that Sun puts forth for the various elements of its Java portfolio.

Organizations that are focused on Web applications and have struggled with productivity or developer resistance to Java should explore JSC as a potential solution. The general concept of migrating developers to a single technology platform and programming language has merit: ease of maintenance, “portability” of developers, and long-term reduction in overall training costs. However, we continue to believe that it will be very difficult to move an organization to pure Java use. The current trend toward use of smart clients and the ability of .Net to neatly integrate with the Windows desktop will continue to create a strong demand for use of this technology. In addition, though Java tools may make many programming tasks as easy as Visual Basic, this will not overcome familiarity with Windows APIs. Pure developer productivity will become less important than building fast in a well-architected way and working well in team situations (see Delta 2612). To play a strong role in this market, Sun will be required to fill out its development platform and market extensively to developers. The current step forward with JSC and a reinvigoration of the NetBeans community is a good first step, along with innovative pricing policies surrounding Sun’s Java Enterprise System platform.

Business Impact: Improving development tools should drive advancements in overall development team productivity and application quality.

Bottom Line: Enterprise Java development remains challenging, but progress is being made in the Java community toward improving overall developer productivity.


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