Java Enterprise Edition 5 hailed for improved Web services, EJB update

A highlight of Sun Microsystems Inc.’s JavaOne show last month was the launch of Java Enterprise Edition 5, the long-awaited update to the enterprise version of Java. But Java developers have a few other things to chew on too, including the continuing détente between Sun and long-time rival Microsoft Corp. and the flurry of interest in Asynchronous Javascript and XML (AJAX) development.

Sun billed EE 5 as the enterprise Java platform’s most significant update in six years. It includes major changes to the programming model, improved service-oriented architecture (SOA) support and simplified creation of Web applications.

Bola Rotibi, senior analyst for application lifecycle, at research firm Ovum in London, says the launch is significant because of improved Web services capabilities, enhancements to the JavaServer Faces framework and inclusion of Enterprise Java Beans 3.0, which Rotibi says “has been greatly simplified.”

Java works with Microsoft .Net
Also at JavaOne, Sun and Microsoft demonstrated improved interoperability between Java and Microsoft’s .Net development framework. Web services built with Java will now interoperate with those created using .Net, according to David Bryant, director of marketing for application platform products at Sun. He described this as a response to customers’ belief that they will need Web services to work across platforms.

The interoperability moves are the latest in a softening of the long-term rivalry between Sun and Microsoft, and Sun has also announced more Java components are being turned over to the open source community as part of Project Glassfish.

Rotibi forecasts more of this, but stops short of projecting a complete opening of the code. “I suspect we’ll go along this road for quite a while,” she says. “I don’t think they’re going to open-source the whole lot.”

Another feature of EE 5 is an updated version of Sun’s JavaServer Faces interface technology, which supports AJAX. AJAX — a set of development techniques for creating Web-based applications with the interactivity of desktop software — was “definitely a dominant if not the dominant theme at JavaOne,” Sun’s Bryant says.

TIBCO Software Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., announced added support for third-party and open-source AJAX components in its TIBCO General Interface visual AJAX development environment.

Kevin Hakman, director of product marketing for TIBCO General Interface, says the company demonstrated support for the Dojo Toolkit, an open-source Javascript tool kit, and for the Google Maps and Yahoo Widgets desktop utilities. Hakman says TIBCO will add support for other AJAX components.

AJAX usually relies on Javascript, a language related but not identical to Java, but Calgary-based ICEsoft Technologies Inc. argues pure Java is better for enterprise applications. ICEsoft announced ICEfaces, an AJAX application development environment using Java rather than Javascript, except for a thin Javascript client to handle different browsers.

Developers prefer java
While AJAX developers focus on rich user interfaces, ICEsoft wanted to create a “robust application” with a “rich user interface,” said Chris Erickson, the company’s chief executive. In enterprise applications, Erickson says, too much reliance on Javascript risks repeating the problems of the old client-server environment. A free community edition of ICEfaces is available now and the enterprise edition — which supports clustering, scalability and sessions handling — is scheduled for release this month.

Like ICEsoft, Nexaweb Technologies Inc. of Burlington, Mass. — which unveiled its jRex 1.0 XML user interface engine — believes Java may be a better choice than Javascript for some rich Internet applications.

“JRex is basically the ability to have an independent client and connect to any environment,” says Chris Heidelberger, Nexaweb’s chief executive.

Rotibi says AJAX will be a pivotal technology, but there is currently “a lot of hype” around it. Developers need to understand that AJAX is not the answer to every problem and that an improved interface is not the only factor in an application’s success, she says. Better tools AJAX development tools are also needed, she adds, and announcements at JavaOne were steps in the right direction.

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