In an earlier (JDJ, Vol. 2, Issue 2) column from the JDJ Editorial Board, Arthur van Hoff of Marimba made the following observation, "It turns out that any piece of [Java] code, if it wants to do something interesting, quickly becomes too large to download as an applet." Arthur then goes on to discuss, among other things, Marimba's elegant solution to this challenge, Castanet.
Taking this observation as a jumping off point for this month's column from the Editorial Board, I would like to offer the following opinion: Java doesn't need the Internet.
The 'Net was instrumental in introducing many of us to the wonders of Java. Dancing toasters and live news tickers captivated us. And Java is much more suitable for the Internet than other component technologies because its very late binding means that programs can be highly granular and thus more easily flow across a slow network connection than old-style statically-linked programs or libraries.
But while Java delivers obvious value over the 'Net, the sophistication and maturity of networked apps on 28.8 and even 56 Kbps connections will pale in comparison to intranet applications under development at companies worldwide. Java is destined to achieve its greatest success within the enterprise, where fat pipes on the LAN are the norm.
Because of its "write once, run anywhere" paradigm, it is the catalyst which will finally, after years of so much hype, usher in an era of true client/server computing across the enterprise.
Think about it: Five or more years ago, the client/server movement promised to deliver universal access to information, increasing "corporate IQ" and unleashing the competitive advantages created by a better-informed workforce. Today, what we think of as traditional client/server is almost an afterthought. Potential solutions to the challenge of mixed computing environments have not fulfilled their promise. Until now.
Java is the key to unlocking true enterprise computing. Past attempts to build a bridge between discrete business information systems required companies to choose between "dumbing down" their systems to enable wider access, or -- more commonly Ð limiting the choice of deployment platforms, thereby creating an elite user base and much higher deployment costs.
Today, as we see the emergence of non-traditional "desktops" such as PDAs, digital telephones and even the first signs of things like "smart," network-enabled vehicles, the challenge of integrating a mixed client environment is even greater. Java has changed the central question from "What am I going to run this on?" to "What do I want to do?"
An additional benefit of Java as the glue to true enterprise computing is that discrete business units within an organization retain their autonomy, functionality and their ability to make choices. No I/T system functionality has to be compromised for the benefit of wider access. An organization's engineering department can retain its UNIX workstations and the art department its Macs and everyone can access core business information.
Java has separated the question about which software applications to choose from the decision regarding which hardware platform to invest in. Access to information and systems is becoming universal.
But how far along are we on this journey to true enterprise computing? How mature is Java and how far does it have to go?
JDK 1.1 is a tremendous step in Java's evolution. Java's performance and stability are much more solid, and Java Beans are fast becoming the component model of choice. The 100% Pure Java movement will ensure that today's applets work in tomorrow's environment. Network Computers are beginning to hit the market. IBM is working with over 130 software developers on the San Francisco Project, a series of business frameworks to enable programmers to easily build enterprise applications from common business objects. The momentum behind Java is tremendous. Never has a new technology been adopted so widely, so swiftly.
Critics will say that Java is still an underachiever; that its current capabilities leave something to be desired. Remember, performance is a journey, not a destination. For a toddler that is roughly two years old, Java has already had a tremendous impact in the marketplace. In the coming months, we will see the industry make Java real for business, and true enterprise computing will finally arrive.
Allan Hess is Business Development Manager of IBM's Internet Division.