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When SYS-CON Media's sister company, SYS-CON Events, began preparing last year for this spring's "Web Services Edge" Conference & Expo, one consideration was paramount: every effort in the nine-month preparation cycle should be geared toward making it indisputably the world's largest independent Java, .NET, XML, and Web services event.

That particular mission was accomplished on March 18-20, 2003, at the centrally located Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, when Web Services Edge 2003 East made its mark right from the get-go, with delegates from a wide variety of companies both technologically and geographically. Not only had they been attracted by the specific session tracks for Java, .NET, XML, and Web services, they had also come to take advantage of the all-day i-technology tutorials, whether it was the Sun Microsystems Java University, the IBM XML Certified Developer Fast Path, Russ Fustino's .NET workshop (Russ' Tool Shed), or Derek Ferguson's Mobile .NET tutorial.

The show opened with a very well-attended keynote from Oracle's John Magee, VP of Oracle9i Application Server. Magee stressed that the key to understanding why Web services, unlike its distributed-computing forerunners like COM and CORBA, is prevailing in the enterprise space is that Web services do more than merely enable interoperability between platforms and integration between applications - they also do so simply.

What drives their simplicity, Magee explained to the audience, is standards.

The afternoon keynote offerings on Day One of the conference were equally well received. First came a panel coordinated by the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I). The WS-I is an open industry organization chartered to promote Web services interoperability across platforms, operating systems, and programming languages, and the panel discussion took place against the backdrop of the WS-I Basic Profile 1.0, consisting of a set of nonproprietary Web services specifications. The working draft for this, the audience learned, was approved just four weeks before the conference.

But security, the panel agreed, was the primary priority. Now that corporations like Merrill Lynch and DaimlerChrysler have joined the organization, ensuring that everyone adheres to the same specification is more important than ever. Web services is moving beyond mere SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI toward addressing security, messaging, reliability, and transactions. Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer of IONA Technologies, emphasized the importance of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) approach to these challenges, an effort that centers on the W3C's Web Services Specification Effort.

The Web services keynote panel was quickly followed by the highlight of Day One for many of the delegates gathered in the keynote hall: an address by Miguel de Icaza, the impossibly young and extremely gifted founder and leader of the GNOME Foundation, cofounder of Ximian, Inc., and .NET expert extraordinaire - as anyone needs to be who leads a project designed to port .NET to the Linux operating system.

The Mono Project, as de Icaza's project is called, clearly fascinated the broad mix of developers attending the conference.

After explaining that GNOME - a desktop development platform and suite of productivity applications - is his company's key focus and is mostly developed in C, C++, Python, and Perl, he went on to recount how for every new GNOME API (GNOME is component-oriented and supports many programming languages), GNOME developers needed to develop language-specific bindings. Thus .NET, which also addresses the multilanguage problem, was of immediate interest to de Icaza.

As soon as he learned about the .NET Framework, he told the spellbound audience, he got excited - a single Virtual Execution System for multiple languages, with a large and reusable factored class library, that was, in his view, just what was needed. As well as being a new way to do things, .NET's rich support for interop (COM, P/Invoke) meant you didn't have to rewrite everything all at once.

And so Mono was born: an open-source .NET Framework implementation.

It's based around the CLI ISO standard, de Icaza continued. It has a CLI-compliant execution system and a x86 JIT compiler. It's supported by Windows, BSD, Linux, and Solaris, and there has been lots of progress on the class libraries.

The Windows support, de Icaza said, was merely a function of the fact that 60% or so of Mono developers have a Windows background. Some of the code contributed to Mono was funded by Microsoft grants, he added.

At the end of his keynote address, scores of developers of every stripe got up from their chairs and surrounded de Icaza for further questions. The response to his good humor, rapid delivery, technical savvy, and sheer charm had been overwhelming and with his keynote, Web Services Edge 2003 (East) passed a significant milestone: no previous conference in the series had ever included so wide a range of technical content.

Day Two saw Sun's Mark Herring take the keynote stage and his mastery of the whole Web services paradigm was clearly in evidence. Extended coverage of both his Java keynote and the subsequent keynote address by Jesse Liberty are available on the main conference Web site, www.sys-con.com/WebServicesEdge2003East.

The closing keynote discussion panel, which for many turned out to be the high point of the entire keynote program, was a wide-ranging and a sometimes heated debate about "The Future of Java." The whole intense and highly interactive hour exemplified very well how a SYS-CON i-technology conference program differs from that offered by any other conference organizer. This was panel discussion at its best.

True to the enormously close links that Java Developer's Journal enjoys with the software development industry, the participants in this final panel at Web Services Edge 2003 (East) had come to Boston from far and wide. Sun's chief technology evangelist Simon Phipps had flown over from the UK and BEA's director of technology evangelism Tyler Jewell had traveled from Los Angeles. Sonic Software's VP and chief technology evangelist Dave Chappell may have nipped across from Bedford, MA, but Aligo's CTO Jeff Capone had flown in from San Francisco, and JBoss founder Marc Fleury had come up from the JBoss Group's company's HQ in Atlanta, Georgia.

We fully expect the next Conference & Expo, Web Services Edge (West) in October, to be equally chock-full of the movers and shakers of the software development industry as it continues its headlong progress toward distributed computing with full application integration and interoperability.

All in all it was a marvelous conference, and the Expo hall was intensely busy from the moment it opened to the moment it closed two days later.

This is not the end of the Web services "story," nor is it even the beginning of the end; but March 18-20 in Boston's Hynes Convention Center may well have marked the end of the beginning.

Come join us for Phase Two...in October in California.

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