Bolstered by wins against Microsoft Corp. in U.S. District Court and renewed support from its Java licensees, Sun Microsystems Inc. this month rolled out Java Platform for the Enterprise, an attack on Microsoft's Windows Distributed InterNet Applications Architecture, or DNA.
At stake is control over the burgeoning market for Internet applications that live in the middle tier of a multilevel client/server architecture. Still, Sun's victory is far from assured. Microsoft said last week it will appeal the latest court ruling requiring it to ship products compatible with Sun's Java. Also, IBM and Novell Inc. say Sun has not gone far enough in loosening licensing restrictions on Java. IBM in particular wants more control over how Java interacts with its own legacy systems.
"We will work closely with Sun when it's Java-related, and when it falls outside the bounds of Java, we'll work through other standards bodies," said Jan Jackman, IBM director of Java software. Sun has collected all of its Java server technologies -- some of which are nearly two years old -- and put them under a single umbrella. Along with its partners, Sun is developing compatibility tests for the entire platform. These will test for how Java interacts with native platforms, including Sun's, and how the parts interact with each other. Sun executives describe the platform as "Write once, run anywhere" for the server.
"Sun is standardising the APIs for application servers and for applications in general," said David Butler, vice president of marketing at Novera Inc. "They are taking developers to the next level of abstraction so they don't have to worry about how to build multitiered applications. They are hiding CORBA, Enterprise Java Beans, LDAP and all that kind of stuff. The vision is developing applications that will run on Microsoft or Sun or anywhere."
Licensees say Microsoft is not involved in defining Java Platform for the Enterprise, which was established before Sun announced its Community Source licensing model and invited Microsoft to rejoin the Java fold. Although Sun declined to divulge its partners, licensees say they include IBM, Oracle Corp., Novell, and application server vendors such as BEA Systems Inc. and Novera. Sun also is working with ERP vendors to make a single connection from their systems to any application server. All of these moves address problems that must be fixed if Java is to succeed. By standardising APIs, Sun is levelling the playing field for application servers -- including its own NetDynamics -- and signalling that it will not compete against its licensees. IBM's Jackman said Sun has stopped trying to make money from licensing fees and has instead made them nominal.
By opening its processes, Sun also is ensuring that Java develops faster. For example, Sun's Enterprise Java Beans specification -- a critical part of the Enterprise Java platform -- was a year late because licensees didn't get involved soon enough. "Our licensees came to us in June and told us there were two fundamental models for building enterprise-class components, and we had to rethink ours," said Sun product line manager Bill Roth.
In addition, Sun has improved developer support over the last few months and is preparing to announce a software channel program that executives claim will finally enable the Californian company to sell cross-platform software. Sun has established a single software sales force and will ensure, among other things, that all Sun software products have consistent prices and part numbers.
Microsoft, meanwhile, may have bought valuable time in the marketplace by appealing the latest Java ruling. Java tools vendor KL Group Inc. says that as soon as Sun won its preliminary injunction to prevent Microsoft from shipping impure Java, corporate customers lifted the bans on their Java projects.