Java vs. Microsoft .Net debate rages

After describing Java as a stable technology with no great surprises likely to come, Java experts during a conference panel session fielded questions about the competitive power of Microsoft's rival .Net platform.

Speaking during a session Saturday at TheServerSide Java Symposium, panelists acknowledged the vitality of Microsoft .Net development technology but defended their prized Java platform. The session was entitled, "Future of Enterprise Java Keynote Panel" and featured executives from companies such as Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems.

An audience member identifying himself as a Motorola employee expressed concerns about Java's future. He asked why developers should be confident that J2EE would survive the Microsoft onslaught.

"I can see some of the new (projects) that are in the works. They're all .Net. All the younger developers that I'm associated with are all in .Net," he said.

Panelist Mark Hapner, Web services strategist at Sun, cautioned against relying too much on Microsoft technologies. While .Net is a strong competitor. it is tightly controlled by Microsoft, he stressed.

"Basically, Microsoft sucks the air out of .Net for everything that they classify as being of strong interest to themselves and there really is no place for other contributions," he said.

"If you just do (development) for .Net, you're propping yourself up on (Microsoft's) economic model. They get to change it however they choose," Hapner said.

J2EE, on the other hand, supports a collaborative community, Hapner said. "I think (J2EE is) the place where developers and vendors and open source communities can really work together in a way you can't do in .Net," said Hapner.

A day earlier at the conference, Rod Johnson, founder of the Spring framework, had argued that Java had fended off the .Net challenge. He also served on Saturday's panel.

Another audience member questioned how to lure Microsoft developers into the Java camp and how to simplify Java.

"I think that's where you're seeing a lot of these frameworks develop," such as Hibernate, to make Java easier to use, responded panelist Cliff Schmidt, an official with the open source program office at BEA.

Panelist Dion Almaer, an editor at TheServerSide.com, said he witnessed significant interest in Java at Microsoft's TechEd conference last year. "I was amazed at how interested people were in Java," Almaer said.

JavaServer Faces (JSF) technology is being used to make Java development easier, Hapner said. JSF provides reusable user interface elements for building the visual interface to a Web application. Components are rendered into page elements such as text and hyperlinks.

Citing Microsoft's reputation for providing easy development, Johnson stressed Microsoft's strength in marketing messages about ease of use.

"If Microsoft has something that's easy to use, they have a budget to tell you how easy to use it is," Johnson said.

Commenting after the panel session, Floyd Marinescu, founder of TheServerSide online community for Java developers, said he did not believe there would be many conversions from Java to .Net and vice versa, unless there was a specific need. The platforms do the same thing, said Marinescu. "I think there's always going to be committers," to the different camps, he said. TheSeverSide also has an online site for .Net.

Discussing the future of Java, panelists cited wishes such as boosts for asynchronous messaging. "More of this will come because people realize that there is not (just) a single programming model," in Java, said panelist Gregor Hohpe, enterprise integration practice leader at ThoughtWorks.

But for the bigger picture, the Java stack is maturing, Hohpe said. "I think we're going to see a slow maturation, which is already under way," said Hohpe.

Panelist Linda DeMichiel, EJB 3.0 spec lead and a senior staff engineer at Sun, said she anticipated further simplification of J2EE. Schmidt said he expected open source to play a bigger role in corporate development.

Responding to a question about the viability of service-oriented architectures, panelists responded that many companies already are deploying SOAs without actually referring to it as such. "I think it's actually happening. It's just that some people aren't calling it that," Schmidt said. Users are adopting SOA-related technologies such as asynchronous messaging, he said.

On Friday at the conference, the spec leader for the existing JSF 1.0 specification hailed the technology during a session entitled, "JavaServer Faces: Dead on Arrival or a Raging Success?"

Rebutting criticism about the quality of JSF components, Craig McLanahan, spec lead for JSF 1.0 and a senior staff engineer at Sun, said only the standard components have been at issue. "We're seeing libraries of components (coming from) all over the place," McLanahan said.

Components have been available from companies such as ESRI and IBM, he said. Meanwhile, an alternative implementation of JSF, called Apache MyFaces, is available at Apache, he said.

"I will claim that JSF has been successful for its first year," McLanahan said.

One factor impacting JSF adoption is the large number of applications written for Struts, which presents redundancies with JSF, according to McLanahan, who also is the Struts framework founder. He said he has proposed an Apache project, dubbed Shale, that would get rid of overlaps between the two platforms.

Overlaps would be eliminated in areas such as JSF validation and Struts navigation. Although McLanahan had proposed that Shale become Struts 2.0, it instead has been accepted as a Struts sub-project at Apache.org, he said.

Requirements gathering for the upcoming 2.0 version of JSF is under way, McLanahan said.

Version 2.0 is expected to feature AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML HTTP Request) functionality, to boost rich Internet application development, said Edward Burns, Sun staff engineer and a spec lead for JSF 1.2. AJAX serves as extensions in the popular Mozilla and Internet Explorer browsers, Burns said after a Birds of a Feather session on Friday.

"It's ubiquitous," he said.

Version 1.2 of JSF, meanwhile, is due as part of J2EE 5 in approximately 2006. It will feature in-progress tree creation and content interweaving. JSF 2.0 will follow some time after that. "We want to get the JSR (Java Specification Request) filed (for JSF 2.0) pretty soon,' by the end of the year, Burns said.

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