CORBA and Java - a lovely couple

It's not just a fling, driven by lust and a mutual hatred of Microsoft - the union between the CORBA and Java camps seems on an inexorable course toward marriage, according to vendors and users at the Object World West 97 trade show. The Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and Sun's Enterprise Java will become virtually indistinguishable in the next 12 to 24 months, they say.

It's not just a fling, driven by lust and a mutual hatred of Microsoft - the union between the CORBA and Java camps seems on an inexorable course toward marriage, according to vendors and users at the Object World West 97 trade show.

The Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Enterprise Java will become virtually indistinguishable in the next 12 to 24 months, they speculate.

While the OMG adopts Java attributes such as object by value, a JavaBeans-like component model and Java scripting into its forthcoming CORBA 3.0 specification, Sun's JavaSoft unit is mimicking CORBA naming, directory, transaction and other services in its Enterprise JavaBeans Model.

John Slitz, IBM's vice president of object technology, believes that such a marriage is a foregone conclusion. "Already, we are swapping out the C++ code in our CB Connector Object Request Broker and swapping in Java," he said. "I believe by next summer the differences between them [Enterprise Java and CORBA] will not matter."

Those differences may vanish as CORBA becomes Enterprise Java, or it may be the case that Enterprise Java becomes CORBA, observers said.

Some vendors say that it does not really matter whether a marriage of CORBA and Java technology takes place, once the markets converge.

"Java and CORBA are already a kind of a de facto standard anyway," said Steve Yellenberg, senior product marketing manager for Visigenic Software Inc. "It used to be just Java on the desktop and CORBA in the server, but now we are seeing an increasing trend toward Java on the server."

But the road to marriage has its potholes. For one thing, the participants have to want to join together.

"That is up to Sun -- they own Java," said Chris Stone, founder and CEO of the OMG. "Fortunately, up until now, we have been able to resolve our differences."

While the CORBA vendors are enthusiastic to sell Java implementations of their products, many also want to maintain the integrity of CORBA. Currently the CORBA Interface Definition Language (IDL) enables developers to remain language-independent.

"There are moves within the OMG to 'Java-ize' CORBA," said Annrai O'Toole, chief technology officer at Iona Technologies Inc. "This is evil, wrong and bad. The whole point of CORBA IDL is that it does not favor one language over another."

O'Toole, of course, has no objections to Java becoming more like CORBA, but estimates that in about two years object request brokers will have two markets. One will be legacy systems that will require C++ and CORBA-based brokers. The other will be new systems that will be written in Java.

In the meantime, users and vendors alike will have to hope that Microsoft does not manage to use its implementation of Java to fragment the market or that Sun and the OMG do not part company. If they were to break up, Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model and ActiveX would have a better chance to become the object-oriented standard.

"The problem with Sun is that it's a whole lot of little dynasties," said Mike Kennedy, vice president of advanced information management at the Meta Group consultancy in Burlingame, California. "So you never know what they are going to do."

However, both sides have a good track record of resolving their differences. Such differences include the rift over Sun's Remote Method Invocation and the OMG's Internet InterOrb Protocol, which was impressively resolved by Sun, according to Bill Coleman, chairman and CEO of BEA Systems Inc.

In his Object World keynote address today, Coleman warned the CORBA and Java camps that they have a lot to lose by not cooperating. "If we let this environment [CORBA] fragment," he said, "we will have a Unix vs. Windows NT battle on our hands, and Microsoft will win. We can not afford to do that."

In the meantime, one user is not convinced that either side really has honorable intentions toward the other.

"Look, if JavaSoft had its way, it would have nothing to do with CORBA," said Subrata Mazumdar, research scientist for Bell Labs in New Jersey. "And if the OMG had its way, it would have nothing to do with JavaSoft. This is about politics, not technology, and the name of the game is beating Microsoft."

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