The great debate: J2EE versus .Net

Executives from Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. started out on a conciliatory note in a debate over the direction of Web services on Jan. 16 at the InfoWorld (U.S.) Next-Generation Web Services conference, but by the end of the hour-long session, the intense rivalry between the two companies surfaced.

Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of Microsoft’s .Net Solutions division, said the discussion should not be about whose platform is better, .Net versus J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), but how to integrate the various platforms.

“The promise of Web services as a standard is so that .Net and Java can talk to each other,” Fitzgerald said. “Our goal is to be the best platform for integration, and that includes J2EE and stitching all the islands together,” Fitzgerald added.

Mark Hapner, Sun’s J2EE lead architect, agreed.

“Integration is the key to delivering Web services to customers,” Hapner said. “But it is also important that the platform is open. It is important to developers.”

Fitzgerald quipped, “at least no one is throwing chairs at each other.”

Michael Vizard, panel moderator and editor-in-chief at InfoWorld (U.S.), then asked panel member David Nielsen, founder and president of Persistent Web, a consultancy, which Web service platform, .Net or J2EE, he would recommend?

Nielsen prefaced his response by telling the audience that he started his career as a Microsoft developer, but seemed to skirt the issue somewhat by saying the platform a company selects should be based to a large extent on which platform they are familiar with.

“The platform you use depends on what you know. That makes sense,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen added that in order for Web services to get beyond “slick demos,” key areas still need to be addressed: “security, integration, and dealing with asynchronous events,” Nielsen said.

The panel included Steve Benfield, CTO of SilverStream; Hugh Grant, CTO of Cape Clear Software; Steve Holbrook, Web service technology evangelist, of emerging technologies group at IBM; Thomas Kurian, vice-president at Oracle9i Application Server division; David Nielsen, founder and president of Persistent Web; and Andy Roberts, CTO at Bowstreet.

Although Sun’s Hapner admitted that Sun would not implement support for Web service protocols until the release of J2EE Version 1.4 “sometime this year,” Hapner said every major company is leveraging the Java platform to deliver Web service products.

And Microsoft’s Fitzgerald named companies such as Southwest Airlines and Dollar Rent-a-Car as companies with Web services already deployed using the .Net.

“Dollar Rent-a-Car added US$10 million in incremental business by deploying their service on Southwest’s site,” Fitzgerald said.

IBM’s Steve Benfield said that they will use both platforms but will not abandon J2EE in favour of .Net.

Disagreements between panellists were measured mainly by degrees rather than outright differences in such areas as the importance of security, the arrival date for ubiquitous Web services, and merits of each platform. All agreed that it appears to be a two-horse race between Microsoft .Net and Sun J2EE.

But things got livelier just before the group wrapped up.

Hapner took the microphone and made a plea for Microsoft to join the Liberty Alliance, a consortium of high-tech companies plus a cross-section of enterprise-level corporations and financial institutions that is developing a protocol to allow the various sign-on services to interoperate with one another.

“Federated identity is crucial, and I invite Microsoft to be part of the Liberty Alliance,” Hapner said.

Fitzgerald quickly responded. “I notice we weren’t asked to join until companies like United Airlines became members. We are looking at it but have some problems with the way it is structured. But I want everyone to know that whether we join or not, we are also working on Federated Identity and that users will have it either way.”