BEA, IBM team on new Java specs

FRAMINGHAM (12/01/2003) - BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp., rivals in the application server market, announced last week that they're teaming on three new specifications to bolster consistency and portability on the Java development platform.

Perhaps the most significant of the three for corporate developers will be Service Data Objects (SDO). The SDO specification aims to provide a simple, unified programming model for data access from heterogeneous systems, including relational databases, XML-based data sources, Web services and enterprise applications.

Nick Gall, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc., said his clients have been grappling with the problem of uniform access to structured and unstructured data, such as e-mail, XML information and relational data.

"This has been a never-ending challenge for all application architectures," Gall said, noting that it has been an issue in both the Microsoft and Java development environments.

In addition to the SDO specification, BEA and IBM published "work manager" and "timer" specifications for application servers. The work manager application programming interface (API) aims to enable applications based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), including servlets and Enterprise JavaBeans, to schedule work to execute concurrently. The timer API enables J2EE-based applications to schedule and receive timer notifications.

BEA and IBM, which have collaborated on standards work in the past, published their newest specifications last week under royalty-free terms and submitted them to the Java Community Process (JCP) that Sun Microsystems Inc. established to evolve the Java technology that it created. A vote on whether the specifications will be accepted into the JCP is scheduled for this week, according to Ed Cobb, vice president of architecture and standards at San Jose-based BEA.

Scott Dietzen, chief technology officer at BEA, said it can take one or two years for a Java specification to become a standard. But by publishing the specifications and implementing the technology in BEA's WebLogic and IBM's WebSphere, the community can get more immediate feedback from the marketplace.

"We clearly tried to streamline this process and help it along from an adoption standpoint," said Rod Smith, vice president of Internet emerging technologies at IBM. The specifications will be supported in WebSphere next year, according to an IBM spokeswoman.

Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., likened the latest BEA/IBM Java effort to the approach that IBM and Microsoft have taken with Web services standards. Innovation has been slow with the JCP, he said, and application server market leaders BEA and IBM are trying to kick-start it by creating specifications, implementing them and later moving to standards once they're approved by the JCP.

"I hope it works, because I think users could benefit from the pace of innovation that would happen," Schadler said. "They need improvements in the platform. They need the vendors to work together so that the stuff is more portable across the various platforms."

Schadler said other vendors with a vested interested may bristle, but he thinks it's in their best interests to participate, since the "real enemy," Microsoft, has been outpacing the Java community with improvements in tools, process execution and integration with the data center environment.

A Sun spokeswoman indicated that the company was pleased that IBM and BEA will be contributing their early work as input into JCP standardization efforts.

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