Java v Windows: the choice is almost yours

Java or Windows? Large firms will, unfortunately, have to master both, says a new study.

The rise of the single-vendor software stack, on which an organisation could build, integrate and operate all of its new applications, has become a reality. IBM, Microsoft, BEA, Oracle and Sun offer such a stack, based either on Java or Windows.

A single application platform promises to cut down on complexity, save money and increase flexibility, says Forrester Research in a study released in July. Using a single architecture and supplier eases vendor and product management, in the process eliminating redundant IT staff, and enables applications written on one platform to be tied together, reconfigured for another purpose or outsourced.

The benefits are real, says Forrester, but most large firms simply can’t move to one platform.

They are already wedded to specific IT assets and skill sets, Forrester giving the example of extending a CICS system being easier on WebLogic or WebSphere and tapping into SQL Server data most easily using Windows. Web services, for their part, will reduce data access problems but not a lack of skills on certain platforms or data integration problems — at least, not yet.

For another thing, IT can’t control what the business will do. IT can recommend a platform, but if the business merges with another or buys another application on another platform, there’s not much IT can do but support it.

Live with it, suggests Forrester, and try to stay above the religious wars raging between the platforms. Java and Windows are good at different things. Windows scales and has become secure well beyond the “good enough”.

Java, meanwhile, is losing its “well-deserved” reputation for being for gurus only with the arrival of simpler tools such as BEA’s WebLogic Workshop, Oracle’s JDeveloper and Sun’s Project Rave.

What IT managers can do is simplify their collection of applications, cut costs and improve the flexibility of their technology. The first step is understanding the real differences between the two platforms:

Windows — call it .Net if you will — runs only on Windows; Java runs on everything. Forrester expects the architectures to diverge further.

Java will always have more enterprise support than Windows because vendors in those markets always need to reach customers running Unix or Linux as well as Windows, says Forrester. But Microsoft’s “integrated innovation” strategy means that investments in Windows improve platform apps such as BizTalk and SQL Server and will help it win enterprise deals.

Windows projects will always be cheaper, says Forrester, even taking into account open source and likely new Java stacks. This is because it will undercut Java pricing and create tools for less skilled — and hence cheaper — programmers and data centre staff.

The second step is segmenting IT into “application domains” which historically serve a single business or IT function and have a single executive with power, budgets and resources. The different domain apps share information and services via standards, such as LDAP and SSL for security and XML and SOAP for portals.

The third step is choosing the platform. Developers can be encouraged to use the platform with training and licensing incentives rather than instituting high-hassle approval processes. Recode to a new platform only for new applications, and change only when natural break-points occur such as licence renewal time.

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