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More Than Marketing
by Steven Berkowitz

On November 7, 2002, Chutney Technologies sponsored a small get-together at New York City's Marriott Financial Center. When Alan forwarded the invite to me, my first thought was, "Goodie. Nothing about Web services."

As it turns out, that wasn't entirely true, but Web services was not the focus. They just came up as incidental to everything else.

The day started with a presentation by Charles Francois, Sun's chief architect for Sun ONE. Francois talked about the Sun ONE set of products and was followed by Chris Riley, senior technology evangelist from Cape Clear, who spoke about their own CapeConnect software. These were straight marketing presentations. You may well have uses for these products, in which case you should visit their respective Web sites to learn more since such presentations don't leave me with much of my own to say.

The third presentation was given by Dr. Anindya Datta, cofounder and CEO of Chutney Technologies. I was a little concerned that this was going to be another hour of mere marketing. Had that been the case, you wouldn't be reading this now. Yes, Chutney had a product to sell (an out-of-process object storage solution called Apptimizer) and, of course, they would love for us all to buy it. But rather than simply tell us about the product, Dr. Datta presented an in-depth explanation of the problem Apptimizer solves. The slides were largely about the vicissitudes of object creation, object destruction, and garbage collection. Maybe it was his command of the subject matter, maybe his quiet passion for the topic, but Dr. Datta presented a compelling case for external object storage.

There is a lesson here for marketers. Don't just tell me about your product. Don't just tell me about people who have used it successfully. Show me a problem and then show me how to solve it with your product. Dr. Datta didn't mention his product by name until slide 42 of a 54-slide presentation. Yet, as a marketing tool, his was the most effective of the three presentations.

After lunch, Bijesh Jacob, senior architect at Marsh, Inc., told the tale of how they implemented the portal at Marsh.com. Something fascinating came out during his talk: when trying to scale the portal, Marsh's J2EE server crumbled under the heavy load. Jacob couldn't tell us which server since Marsh had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the vendor. Hey, vendor, whoever you are, shame on you.

After Jacob's presentation there was a panel discussion consisting of Jacob, Riley, Dr. Datta, and Edgar Holcomb from JP Morgan. The real meat of this discussion revolved around Morgan's experiences with implementing their own portal.

A servlet-based application running on WebLogic, Morgan's portal is an example of how Web services are being used right now. This project is serving as Morgan's Web services proof of concept. The business units using the portal are free to write their portlets in whatever language(s) they wish as long as they provide clear SOAP interfaces. However, Holcomb said the portal developers worked very closely with the business units on this project to make sure everything worked the way it had to.

Okay, think about that for a minute. Web services promises interoperability between applications. Morgan acknowledges, even embraces this, in theory. However, in their first actual implementation of Web services, they refused to take the hype on faith. While the business units are said to be free to use whatever technologies they want, the reality was that they were hand-held through this process by the portal group a cautious and rational approach. They see the promise and want to make sure the technologies can live up to it.

Holcomb says that they are very happy with how things are working and he sees more such projects in the future. As they move forward, the business units will implement things as they see fit. This will be a project to keep an eye on, perhaps even a barometer of the future of Java-based Web services.

Once again, some of the best information presented at this seminar was not on the menu. A little digging turned up some interesting facts about some real-world projects. The advice I gave in "Good New for the Java Universe" (JDJ, Vol. 7, issue 11) still holds. Go. Ask. Listen. Learn.

Atlanta Java Software Symposium
by Joey Gibson

I arrived at the Norcross Marriott (which is about 20 yards as the crow flies from my office at BravePoint) at 12:15 on Friday, November 15, the first day of the symposium.

The symposium in question is the Atlanta Java Software Symposium, organized by an outfit out of Colorado called The Complete Programmer Network. They've been putting on a series of these symposia across the country, with Atlanta being the final stop of the year.

Seated at the registration desk was symposium organizer Jay Zimmerman, who greeted me warmly as I introduced myself. I was presented with a conference folder containing an updated schedule, session evaluation forms, and most important, a CD-ROM containing all presentations from all presenters for the entire show in PDF format. This is a very nice touch that more conferences should emulate.

I briefly spoke to Jay, who told me that their method of getting the word out about their symposia is to provide, gratis, big-name speakers at local Java user group meetings who will plug the upcoming shows. Speaking at the Atlanta Java User Group back in September was James Duncan Davidson, creator of Apache Tomcat and Ant.

Sporting an impressive list of speakers including the aforementioned James Duncan Davidson, Erik Hatcher, Grant Holland, Jason Hunter, and Bruce Tate, this symposium proved to be a fun and informational experience. With attendance limited to just 200, there was plenty of room to move around and relax during the sessions. I must admit it seemed a bit odd at first for a conference to run Friday through Sunday, but it hit me how useful this would be for local companies. Since these symposia are being done in several cities, local companies could send entire teams and not lose several man-weeks of productivity. This is by design. And with the cost of attendance just $695 (with group discounts) including five meals, this thing is a steal.

The motto of this symposium series is "No Fluff, Just Stuff" and it absolutely lived up to it. I've been to JavaOne several times and have walked out of sessions within seconds because they were nothing more than marketing pitches. This didn't happen a single time during this symposium. With the slight exception of the opening night's keynote from Sun (which I'll get to shortly), almost all the material covered was applicable for any product from open source to proprietary, and was free of marketroid-speak. It was about techniques, tips and tricks, and how to best get the job done. No fluff, just stuff.

Most of the sessions were an hour and a half in length, but on Saturday some of them were three hours. Topics included Ant (a personal favorite) and friends including XDoclet and JUnit, Struts, JMS, design patterns, anti patterns, and JDO.

Sessions ranged from introductory to advanced and there were even a few you wouldn't expect at a Java symposium, such as Ruby (another personal favorite) and a session extolling the virtues of Mac OS X.

Opening night featured Daniel Templeton from Sun delivering the keynote address. He gave a sort of roadmap of where Java is going. He spent quite a bit of time talking about Sun's view of Web services and JAX-RPC. It was an interesting talk, even if it did border on marketing a few times. He was heavily pushing JAX-RPC as opposed to other Web services toolkits, but that's to be expected. Oddly, he also talked about using Jini for Web services. Technically speaking, this does fit the Web services definition, but it takes out the interop piece since Jini is Java-only. He also discussed how in the future the J2ME platform would have SOAP access, an interesting thing to say the least. One amusing comment from Templeton (while discussing J2EE 1.4) as he took a friendly swipe at IBM was "IBM asked Sun to delay the release of J2EE 1.4 because WebSphere was so far behind. We politely declined." This was greeted with chuckles from the audience. He also pushed Sun ONE App Server for J2EE saying that it is definitely not iPlanet: "We buried that thing and danced on its grave." He followed this up with "Sun has a history of killing application servers," a reference to Sun's purchase and subsequent offing of NetDynamics, which was, again, met with laughter.

The keynote was followed up by an expert panel round-table discussion with several of the presenters. Jason Hunter, of servlets fame, was one of those. He spoke of how "JSP was created for marketing so Sun could sell something competing with ASP," and how he prefers the Tea (http://opensource.go.com) technology to JSP. (Servlets.com is built using Tea.) I found this interesting and decided to look into Tea some more.

As for the technical sessions, the content was excellent. One of the presenters, Sue Spielman, was stuck in Denver so Erik Hatcher stepped up to the plate to take over her sessions. He was already scheduled to present three or four sessions, so he was certainly the hardest working man that weekend! Dave Thomas was also unable to attend, so Glenn Vanderburg filled in for him. I attended sessions on XDoclet, anti patterns, JDO, Castor, Ruby, EJB, JAAS, and a few others. I started to take notes, but not only did I have the CD-ROM with all the presentations, there were printouts available at the beginning of each session, so I didn't have to write everything down. I could just make annotations as necessary.

What's the takeaway point from all of this? These symposia are extremely affordable, especially if a company were to send a group of employees, and the content is exceptional, making for a great value. I couldn't have been more pleased with how it went. I've been raving about it to colleagues and friends and have been putting to good use several of the things I learned there. I can't wait until next year! I would suggest to anyone who wants to attend a conference next year to see if one of the Complete Programmer Network's symposia is coming to your town. Details about upcoming symposia can be found at www.nofluffjuststuff.com. It will be well worth it.

Author Bios
Steven Berkowitz has done development and project management for Fortune 100 companies, startups, and nonprofit organizations. He is the founder of techniCrafters, which provides Web development services to small businesses and municipalities. [email protected]

Joey Gibson is a senior consultant and instructor for BravePoint, a consulting company in Atlanta, GA. He is the coauthor of Ant Developer's Handbook published by SAMS. [email protected]

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