Developers hedging Java-v-ActiveX bets

With the race to establish the dominant object model for Internet applications and cross-platform development defying easy handicapping, developers are hedging their bets by working with both Sun's Java and Microsoft's ActiveX technologies in the hopes of finding a viable integration scheme down the road.

With the race to establish the dominant object model for Internet applications and cross-platform development defying easy handicapping, developers are hedging their bets by working with both Sun's Java and Microsoft's ActiveX technologies in the hopes of finding a viable integration scheme down the road.

"As software developers, we need to be able to support what the market demands. We're making investments in both of these technologies," says a Java developer at Salient, a custom vertical application developer in Los Angeles. "You're able to do more today with Java for Web development. Because of that and the fact that Microsoft is investing in Java, we're more confident in our own Java investment."

Sun's JavaSoft division late last month laid the groundwork for challenging Microsoft's expanding ActiveX strategy by rolling out the Java Beans component model. JavaSoft's initiative will ensure that Java applets will run consistently across different operating systems and interoperate with ActiveX, OpenDoc and Netscape Navigator components.

In contrast, Microsoft's interoperability scheme calls on tying Java to Microsoft's own Component Object Model by layering an ActiveX interface on Java applets.

However, if Java garners enough developer interest, Microsoft -- which has so far declined to comment on Java Beans -- may be forced to implement the Java Beans APIs to improve performance and interoperability, some observers say.

"They have developers in the millions who are used to working with the Windows APIs, but I think they're looking at full interoperability with Java Beans in 1996 or 1997," says Evan Quinn, an analyst at International Data, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Although the Java Beans plan to integrate multiple object models appeals to users, the devil is in the details, according to the Salient developer.

"For a developer, Java Beans expands the palette of things you can work with. Even so, there is a translation overhead between component models," the Salient developer says. "We would want to avoid this kind of hybrid system."

Regardless of how developers choose, Microsoft may be in a position to wrest control of a significant, if not dominant, position in the Internet market.

"Microsoft is playing on both sides. If Java wins, they have Jakarta -- their Visual Java," says Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz Consulting Group, in Newton, Massachusetts.

In the meantime, developers are weighing the benefits of both.

"It's too early to say which component model will win out," says Alex Hu, a programmer with Object Quest, in Toronto. "The multiplatform support in Java is good, but if Visual Basic Script and ActiveX are everywhere, people will use it."

The specification for Java Beans is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter.

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