Five years after Sun Microsystems introduced Java as a new computer language, its presence in the enterprise is finally beginning to make an impact.
A recent study by the Gartner Group predicts that penetration by Java Virtual Machines will exceed 90 percent of all desktops and servers by 2002. The study also predicts the use of Java in the U.S. will climb to 60 percent by 2005.
Java’s greatest leap has come in the past month with the well-received release of Java 2 Enterprise Edition. The software, made up of nine components, is designed to give programmers a standard way to build business software using Java.
Since its inception, Sun has touted Java as “write once, run anywhere,” meaning that Java code can be compiled once and run on any computer that supports the Java platform. However, up to this point, companies have talked about using Java more than they've actually used it.
With the statistics pointing to ever-increasing numbers of Java systems, is this the year that Java finally makes sense for your organization?
To begin this three-part series on Java, we’ll examine this emerging language from the perspective of businesses and analysts. Future installments will focus on e-business applications and Java’s potential in the enterprise during the next five years.
From applets to e-commerce
Many users first encountered Java as an applet, a small, interactive program designed to offer a more dynamic experience for Web users. But such run-ins tended to be lengthy and often didn’t make for very good first impressions, said Evan Quinn, a research director at the Hurwitz Group .
“A couple of years ago, the scariest thing you could see on a Web browser was the little message, ‘Starting Java,’” Quinn said.
That’s changed with the advent of Pentium chips, more advanced Macintosh computers, and improvements in Java Virtual Machines. While applets are making a comeback, “they don’t provide a whole lot of commercial value," Quinn said. “They provide fun value or a look-and-feel value, but nobody’s making a zillion dollars developing applets.”
But while Java applets haven’t provided a great deal of value as browser-based applications, they are working well on the server side, particularly for e-commerce.
The continuing appeal of Java
Java lends itself well to e-commerce as a unifying application.
Writing once and running everywhere might, in the enterprise, end up being “write once, test everywhere,” but either option tends to be more efficient than deploying code to multiple-server operating systems.
And while e-commerce applications become more and more complex, with businesses having to coordinate what’s visible on the Web with their inventory or include customer-service capabilities, market pressures haven’t changed.
So what does all this mean for businesses?
“There has to be a bit of a revolution in terms of server-side Web app development. You’re also dealing with bringing together lots of disparate systems, so integration is extremely important,” Quinn said.
”You better not hard code all these interfaces. You’d better find a common medium to bring all of these disparate applications together so they can work in unison so you can do the integration in a reasonable period of time.”
For Quinn, the solution to such e-commerce challenges lies with Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, or J2EE, which Sun launched in December at the Java Business Conference. The Gartner Group study on Java calls J2EE, formerly known as JDK 1.2, “the most comprehensive update in Java technology since its initial introduction in 1995.”
If J2EE is as successful as some have predicted, it will help businesses of all types who want to dabble in e-commerce, Quinn said. It also answers the question, “How do you build these complex e-commerce apps and do it in a reasonable period of time and not kill yourself in terms of maintenance?” Quinn contends that J2EE also levels the playing field for businesses, establishing a set of standards for server-side, high-end development “so people don’t have to battle it out anymore in terms of the plumbing; everybody gets to use the same plumbing.”
One business’ use of Java
At CareerPath.com , an online job search Web site, work is under way to move its page-generating mechanisms out of a database and into a separate middle tier, which consists of Web servers and IBM’s Java-based WebSphere application servers.
“We previously just had a thin Web-server tier that would communicate with the database, and the database included a PL/SQL function that generated pages,” said Peter Alexander, senior vice president of Technology for CareerPath.com.
Currently, the company is in the middle of validating the new system, running the implementation parallel to its production site. “As time goes on, we’ll synchronize the two and actually just flip the switch to transfer the load to our new system,” Alexander said.
One thing the company hopes to gain through such a system is the ease of introducing new functionality. Such a system will also be more maintainable. “The main event is purely infrastructure,” Alexander said. “It’s giving us a better foundation.”
While “technical people” have been in favor of Java solutions for some time, Alexander said Java’s value is beginning to be recognized for both its scalability and the ability to control functionality.
Another benefit is Java’s progress as a server-side language.
“I think it’s very mature now,” Alexander said. “The robustness and the reliability is there; it may not have been a couple of years back.”
The Java platform has also become more independent. At CareerPath.com, for example, developers use Windows machines and move the Java onto Sun Solaris servers. “We have found developers are more at home in a Windows environment,” Alexander said. “I think that enhances the productivity of these developers” and shows “quite graphically the cross-platform independence of Java, which is compelling.”
Are you using the Java platform in your business? What does it offer you? What are the difficulties of incorporating Java into your enterprise? Let us know by posting a comment below.