In an attempt to fill out Java with a full-fledged development framework, Sun subsidiary JavaSoft has released the initial draft specification for its JavaBeans component model. But the multivendor effort might take shape too late to challenge Microsoft's thriving ActiveX component standard.
The JavaBeans API initiative, announced in May at the JavaOne conference, calls for the creation of a Java-based component architecture that will ease the creation of cross-platform Java applications and compound documents and build bridges to other component environments. The draft specification addresses component development for the core Java language but omits details on integrating Java applets with other models such as Component Object Model (COM), ActiveX, OpenDoc, and LiveConnect.
Moreover, JavaBeans still lacks a standardised specification for hooking in to a distributed object infrastructure such as CORBA.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is folding Java tightly into its Distributed COM infrastructure. Most significantly, Microsoft is modifying the Java virtual machine for Windows so developers can create applications that encompass both Java applets and ActiveX components. (See ActiveX security.)
A third-party ISV program for JavaBeans, comparable to Microsoft's programs, will be key to Java's success, observers say. "JavaBeans will really take shape when there are JavaBeans components on the market," says Evan Quinn, an analyst with International Data, in Framingham, Massachusetts. "Standards are defined in the market, not in the back offices of engineers."
Timing is also key for JavaBeans. JavaBeans will ship in a release of the Java Development Kit later this year or early in 1997, officials say. "JavaSoft needs to partner with component vendors to get JavaBeans product to market," Quinn says. "They can't wait 12 or 18 months. Developers are working with ActiveX today. The supply side of third-party vendors and demand side are ready for JavaBeans today."
Indeed, some third-party vendors say they were not queried for input on the JavaBeans initiative. "The delivery schedule [of the specification] is a little further out than we would like," says Bob Petrovic, marketing manager at KL Group, in Toronto. "We'll probably have the stuff in here in the first quarter, then we can begin to define our development requirements."
JavaSoft has yet to determine integration with Netscape's recently announced Open Network Environment, which includes an Internet Foundation Class Java class library to create Java components and application front ends, according to one vendor in the effort.
JavaSoft has been working with heavyweights such as IBM, Borland, Symantec, Netscape, and Oracle to hammer out the specification. Having the help of so many players has not slowed JavaSoft's decision-making, according to one participant. The company's chances of producing a complete specification in short order are considered strong, the source says.
Although the contributions of individual partners are difficult to pinpoint in the draft, Borland's Baja component model, which is used in Delphi and Latte, influenced the JavaBeans component structuring scheme, according to Pat Vermont, Borland group product manager for Java tools. IBM's OpenDoc, Visual Age, and Lotus development groups contributed to areas such as introspection, a way of deciding which properties, events, and methods a JavaBeans or low-level application component supports.