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It's 1998 and everyone is rushing to get to market and deliver Java-based application servers. The market is heading toward development environments tightly integrated and coupled with application servers. It's like a gold rush to capture the leadership positions with the right solution.

Indeed, the hardware, database and tool vendors are all in the running, throwing their significant weight behind the marketing and development of these products.

Imagine for a moment the short list of the top database vendors: IBM, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, Progress and Microsoft. Only the last member has yet to emerge with or announce plans for a Java-based application server platform. Microsoft, of course, wants nothing to do with Java on the server (the subject of a separate column).

These and other less notable vendors have realized that a tool or database won't present the solution. That might have been the case in good old GUI client/server days, but not with networked, server-centric applications conceived today. In terms of deployment licensing potential, the application server of tomorrow is roughly equivalent to the database server of yesterday.

The database vendors are rushing to provide application servers purposed for Java and Internet apps, and weaning their customers. The tool vendors are adding appservers - from wherever they can find them - to their tools. Startups involved in the surge of Java development environments are reinventing themselves as appserver companies. It appears that anyone selling Java is talking about "application server" somewhere in their glossy type.

Smart customers, or prospects, to be more precise, are demanding: Open Platform Application Server; the ability to CHOOSE the ORB of choice; services such as Transaction Service (JTS) that can be coupled with the AppServer; IIOP protocol so that security layers can be added from third party; adaptive clients ranging from HTML to full-blown Java applications; components on the application server; and RAD environments for development of client/server logic and components.

There's a veritable army of developers (consultants, IS types, VARS), and they've been sweating it out trying to build Internet applications with VI, EMACS and general-purpose tools. They've tried to deploy without application servers and failed. Many have tried to sew disparate client and server processes together and failed once again. They're ready for the promised land!

In effect, the movement of products being sold provides one with a mirror of what the developers are doing (and not doing) with Java and Internet applications.

In early 1997 all we had were lots of cheap Java tools (so-called IDEs). The Apptivity startup was the first on the scene in the spring of 1997 with an integrated development/deployment solution that included a 100% Java application server and professional developer-oriented integrated RAD tool. At that time what was available on the market were inexpensive Java IDEs, the kinds that had three settings: type code, compile code and run code - a sort of Flintstones-type approach to the new breed of three-tier systems development!

Later on, circa winter 1997 (decades later in Web time), we saw a crop of application servers for sale. Most were proprietary extensions of older products but a few new trees represented the above list of desired approaches. Unfortunately, a cart not attached to a horse is of little value. An appserver never truly attached to a comprehensive tool for development presents a serious challenge to the overall equation for success.

And here we are in the middle of the current rush. Some of the products in the market now offer incredible productivity, strong server-side application logic support and the ability to aim for Internet application - and win big. This allows the "mere mortals" out there to become successful within a reasonable time in the deployment of intranets, extranets and Internets. Now, if these mortals could just get past their Y2K problems for a few moments!

Java George is George Kassabgi, director of developer relations for Progress Software's Apptivity Product Unit. You can e-mail him at [email protected]


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