Analysis: Java technology gains some ground in battle of components

By George Lawton, ITworld.com |  Development

LAS VEGAS -- The vendors that circulate at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas
usually boost the technology of the day or, more often, the technology of tomorrow. If
it is not shipping and you cannot test it, it is easier to promote and sell -- and
thus, perhaps, safer.

Many of the wireless doodads and Internet appliances at this year's conference
neatly fall into that categorization.

Few at the show stop to remember that, yes, the TabletPC that Bill Gates touted at
the start of the show is pretty similar to the Pen PCs that dotted the show about ten
years ago. Those machines, on the main, sank without a trace, leaving little but
marketing material in their wake.

But Comdex has so many corridors that you may occasionally chance upon people
discussing technology that is actually available. At this year's conference, for
example, at least one forum was dedicated to standard software components, a technology
long-touted in the software trade booths but that IT shops are only now beginning to
use.

In Las Vegas, at a session sponsored by ComponentSource that considered component
software do's and don'ts, IT managers noted that, despite some implementation issues,
Java component technology from Sun Microsystems and Component Object Model (COM)
technology sponsored by Microsoft -- newly recast as the .Net initiative -- are
beginning to take root. For big, multiplatform computer departments, the Java route has
real appeal.

Still, maturity is an issue. Kevin Starrett, lead developer-analyst for Federal
Express's Latin America and Caribbean IT division, said his group is today doing all
its production work in Java. Starrett and his troops have gone further of late,
focusing on Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), the component standard that has arisen to help
ease Java development problems. He noted, "We [favor] a component architecture.
We have taken some small strides in looking at EJB, but we want it to get a little more
mature."

Like most IT shops, FedEx faces a major shortage of software programmers. Starrett
hopes that a component architecture such as EJB will enable the company to break up its
development process into pieces so that developers with advanced skills can create
software in the manner of reusable components. Those components can subsequently serve
the purposes of all the company's frontline developers.

In addition, Starrett likes the way that Java provides a wrapper around system
services such as security. "When we get to EJB we won't have to think about threading
or worry about concerns of running on a particular application server," he
explained. "However, it is always in the back of your mind because you are curious, and
want to make sure it will not blow up in your face."

Battle lines still mark software component world

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