Interoperability frustrations aired

Interoperability between Java and Microsoft .Net systems remains very much a work in progress, if discussions at JavaOne on Wednesday were any indication.

During an evening conference session entitled "On the Couch with Sun and Microsoft," officials from the two vendors went toe to toe with audience members frustrated over interoperability and with Web services in general. Sun and Microsoft signed an interoperability agreement in April 2004 that has featured cooperation in Web services standardization.

Microsoft's participation at JavaOne this year has been lauded during the conference. But Microsoft and Sun officials had to contend with disgruntled IT workers.

"No one wants to work with WSDL," exclaimed one audience member. Microsoft's Doug Purdy, a lead program manager involved in the company's Indigo Web services technology, then asked the attendee if he would like to see additional tests or profiles inside the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) Basic Profile for Web Services. But the response was, "I have no idea. It just doesn't work."

Regardless, Purdy said work would be done in either WS-I or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He pointed to XSD (XML Schema) as a problem with Web services. The profile currently says nothing about XSD except that it must be used, he said.

"Ninety-nine percent of problems people have with interoperability is XSD," Purdy said.

Purdy defined interoperability as the ability to send a message, validate the data, and then being able to process the message on the recipient side. But an audience member said there was more to it than that.

"Simply trading messages is not enough," the audience member said. A production application has to be able to track problems from the front all the way to the back, he said. "It's not enough to simply toss a message," said the audience member.

A Sun official concurred. "You say point-to-point integration is what you're looking for and I agree entirely," said Marina Fisher, a Sun enterprise architect.

"What we want is business process orchestration. We want management across all those heterogeneous environments," Fisher said.

Fisher said there are solutions out there. But an audience member replied, "Those solutions only cover part of the way."

When developing projects, developers should seek homogeneity within the project itself and try to limit technology choices, said Microsoft's Dino Chiesa, product manager in the vendor's .Net developer group. "My inclination is no, don't add complexity and heterogeneity to a project," he said.

"Where the integration really makes sense is between projects," Chiesa said. Projects delivered by different teams are where integration and concepts such as SOA come into play, said Chiesa.

One audience member asked if Microsoft had a .Net equivalent to Enterprise JavaBeans. Purdy said Microsoft does not provide container-managed persistence, but partners offer it. Microsoft also has the functional equivalent of many EJB functions in its enterprise services in Windows, he said.

Fisher pointed out the differences between Microsoft technologies and Java, noting Microsoft's lean toward a component-based model. "J2EE was actually designed to solve the enterprise-type of problems," Fisher said.

Despite the frustrations, the audience was pleased just to have the two vendors on the same stage. One audience member said, "It's good see both of you [Microsoft and Sun officials] together," which drew applause from the crowd.

An earlier panel entitled "Java and .Net: Interoperability Challenges and Rewards," focused on Web services as a key to harmony between disparate systems.

"Interoperability is by far the major driver for Web services from our perspective," said panelist Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart, a Distinguished Engineer at Sun. he said. "We want to make the Java platform the best place to write Web services."

Microsoft is committed to interoperability in its planned Indigo technology planned for the XP, 2003, and Longhorn version of Windows, said Chiesa, who participated as a panelist in both sessions.

"We're still trying to work things out," with Indigo, he said.

"We will not ship without getting the interoperability," Chiesa said. There are no plans, however, to offer Indigo to open source developers, said Chiesa. He said he could not comment on what the licensing stipulations for Indigo might be other than that Windows users would have the technology automatically.

Chiesa noted the existence of Microsoft-centric users. "They don't think there's anything outside their .Net wall. They don't even see Java," said Chiesa.

Chiesa vowed that the company wants its Windows products to interoperate with other systems, such as Java. Microsoft products do not have to run on multiple platforms but must connect to them, he said. Interoperability "is an imperative," said Chiesa.

"We're still going to be Windows-oriented," he said.

Panelists during the .Net-Java interoperability session stressed the importance of the Web Services Security specification, but audience members strongly favored Secure Sockets Layer [SSL] at least for the moment.

"[SSL is] simple and available. Web Services Security is not available. It's complex," an audience member said.

BEA Systems' Mark Nottingham, a senior principal technologist, stressed the newness of Web services. "It's a very young industry. I think the story's going to come together a lot better over the next year," he said.

Nottingham cited interoperability issues with XML Schema pertaining to data binding. He, too, said he would not be surprised to see WS-I or W3C address the issue.

During a roundtable session pertaining to the Java Community Process (JCP) held earlier on Wednesday, Don Deutsch, a JCP executive committee member and vice president of standards strategy at Oracle, expressed an interest in having Microsoft participate in the JCP.

"I'm pleased that they're here at JavaOne and we'd love to have them participate," Deutsch said.

"But you have to recognize that .Net is a closed, single-source technology and we're working on a collaborative effort to create a technology that's shared," said Deutsch. "But maybe we can build some bridges."

"I'd be surprised if we were ever engaged in extending the .Net platform," as part of the JCP, Deutsch said.

Asked if Microsoft would consider joining the JCP, Chiesa in an interview said there were "no plans along those lines.

"There is a Java community and Microsoft participates, but we're not a member of the JCP," Chiesa said.

Participation, for example, includes developing a JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) 3.0 driver that is being demonstrated at JavaOne this week, Chiesa said. This allows Java developers to connect to Microsoft's SQL Server database. The driver is in a beta release.

"That is a form of participation," with the Java community, said Chiesa.

Not represented at the JCP roundtable were IBM and BEA Systems, two critical Java technology vendors who have been at odds with Sun at times. But roundtable participants indicated there was no specific reason that the two companies were not on the panel.

Both IBM and BEA were giving keynote presentations at JavaOne this week, making them critical participants in the conference as a whole.

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