Yech. I hate that title as much as you do, but it stuck in my brain and I can't get it out. Things are going on in the industry, and I think this is an appropriate time to cover them. We were at the Java Business Conference in December, covering what appeared to be more of a nonevent than a true exposition. Probably the biggest disappointment was Sun's backing out of the standards process for Java. Alan Williamson's column goes into detail on that, expressing the feelings of many in the industry that were upset by this move. While the little guys were understandably upset, it's the big players that were really hurt. IBM in particular has made a large investment in Java, and has been looking to participate in the development of the language on more of a peer basis than this turn of events allows.
There have been other happenings in the field as well. Not one but two start-up EJB-based product companies have been acquired by larger corporations in the past few months. On the West Coast Ariba purchased Trading Dynamics for about $400M. And here in the East BEA purchased the Theory Center for about $100M. Trading Dynamics makes sophisticated auction software, which is EJB compliant and runs on WebLogic. The Theory Center makes a component development framework for WebLogic, and coincidentally has a set of vertical components that support a business-to-consumer type of auction.
Clearly, one of the hottest markets at the moment is exchange enablement. Exchanges, be they business to consumer, like eBay or Priceline.com, or business to business, such as Chematch.com or eSteel, are the focus of both the venture capital industry and the large-scale consulting practices. Egged on by the success of eBay, a large number of companies are competing to change the way consumers and businesses interact.
Several other significant events happened recently too. BEA and Warburg-Pinkus, which was an original investor in BEA and still owns a good part of it, combined to create a new, as yet unnamed company to develop software tools for the industry. The company's first act? To purchase VisualCafe from Symantec. I spoke with Joe Menard, president of BEA's E-Commerce Server division shortly after this was announced. They see this as a way to further integrate tools into J2EE - tools that will make it easier for everyone to develop distributed applications.
Interestingly enough, Persistence Software picked this moment to engage in a lawsuit with the Object People over Persistence's patents regarding object-relational mapping. I spoke with two Persistence VPs at the show, and the company is keen on protecting what it regards as a clear differentiator in the EJB marketplace.
Where's all of this headed? People have been telling the server companies two things lately - the products are what we want, but they're too hard to use. At the lower end you see products like ColdFusion and SilverStream taking away business from the EJB servers. These products are easy to use and fairly powerful in their own right, but they don't pack the wallop of a WebLogic, a WebSphere or a PowerTier.
Additionally, people - particularly start-ups - are looking for a much higher degree of vertical integration than previously offered. They don't want products, they want solutions, like Trading Dynamics.
It's going to come down to who offers the best set of tools and integration. IBM has a head start with hardware, software, database and development tools. BEA is quickly making up for lost ground and is buying everyone in sight. Persistence just announced an exchange package called Sold.
The first age of EJB is now over. In the beginning, there was plenty of room for everyone, and anyone could build a server. We're now in a consolidation phase. Expect to see plenty of work on integrating the presentation layer - JSP, JHTML and the like - into the business logic layer, and making it easy to work with via enhanced IDEs. I also expect there to be fewer server vendors this time next year. To BEA or not to BEA, that is the question.
Sean Rhody is the editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. He is also a principal consultant with Computer Sciences Corporation
where he specilaizes in application architecture - particularly distributed systems.
He can be reached at: [email protected]