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You may have to dig beneath the hype a little, but at any gathering of 40 Java vendors there's bound to be some treasure buried in there somewhere. It's just waiting for you to find it.

If you have children, you tend to measure time by their needs. The first day of summer camp I was at the Web Services Edge 2002 East Conference (hope you found my "Show Report" helpful [JDJ, Vol. 7, issue 8]), and the first day back to school found me at Wall Street IT - The Next Generation.

Held September 4 and 5, 2002, at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, Wall Street IT - tng gathered almost 40 vendors on the show floor and backed them up with 15 seminars and presentations by some high-level players from technology companies and major Wall Street firms. Produced by Lighthouse Partners with show management by Flagg Management Inc., this conference provided a good look at the state of technology.

Don't worry if you're not on Wall Street. The show had plenty of good information and, more important, good news for the Java world. Sure the focus was on using technology in the financial services industry, but many of the vendors work in other spaces as well and these conferences presented a great opportunity to read between the lines. While everyone was waving the Web services banner, by listening closely, I realized something rather valuable: despite how dank and miserable it may be out there, Java is not going away, maybe even can't go away.

Many of the vendors on the floor were Java shops. In and of itself this is neither surprising nor very inspiring. People still need technology, so it's inevitable that some Java work will get done. It's when you look closer that things become interesting.

California-based DevelopMentor provides technical training in Java, XML, Web services, and .NET. They were telling me that at an XML show the prior week, around 7080% of the show attendees they spoke with were asking about courses on how to do Web services with Java.

Ah. Now we're getting somewhere. If you think about it, trainers have a unique view of the market, especially in tight times like these. Budgets allow for only the most necessary of items. Training courses have to be directly relevant to existing projects.

With this thought in mind, I spent about 30 minutes with Greg Brill, president and founder of Infusion Development Corp. and the editor and driving force behind the CodeNotes book series. Infusion develops custom training courses for corporate clients. Apparently, they're no longer called on for basic Java courses. It's all Java and ___. Clients want a blend of technologies. Infusion recently did a 14-day training course for Lehman in Tokyo a Java, EJB with WebLogic, and XML/XSL course. Demand for Infusion's courses has remained steady and perhaps even grown a little. This is because their courses are custom-developed to suit the needs of particular projects and, as mentioned earlier, those projects still exist.

What Brill is seeing is that Java is the facilitator of integration; this shows Java's maturity and penetration. In the boom days, Java's hype machine was working full-time: everyone was putting out J2EE servers and everyone else was using them. Now Java is everywhere. It's a fact of life. No matter what happens in the market, no matter what happens with .NET or anything else, Java is not going away. As Brill put it, Java colonized tech companies much as the Spaniards colonized the New World. Spanish is spoken everywhere south of the U.S.

Web services is pretty much guaranteed to play a big part in any IT conference these days. Wall Street IT - tng did not disappoint. Day one provided us with a seminar given by Anne Thomas-Manes of Systinet entitled "Web Services for Technology Managers," in which she gave a fairly high-level view of the technologies behind Web services and laid out how Web services work. She also discussed which companies are providing Web services solutions and gave some guidance on how to pick from among this field.

As you know, aside from SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI, most of the Web ser- vices standards are still evolving. The industry is getting closer to having standards that deal with security, workflow, and transactions, but we're not there yet. This would be a good place to note that the only thing that doesn't seem to move on Internet time is the development of the standards underlying the whole mess.

There seems to be a burgeoning awareness that the exposure of functionality via Web services, what is basically cross-language RPC, is not all that sexy. According to Thomas-Manes, the best a SOAP message can do is two to three times slower than RMI, and that's top speed on a small, simple message. You'll really need something more to make this take hold after the hype dies down.

There was a panel discussion called "Future Technology Platforms for Deploying Web Services." The moderator was Frank Greco of Crossroads Technologies and the panelists were Jim Bole of Infravio, Dmiitri Tchikatilov of Microsoft, Ed Schwarz of Sun, Adam Greissman of UDICo, and JP Morgenthal of Software AG. It was during this discussion that the "something more" came out. The panel reiterated that Web services are too slow and not secure and that simply exposing old functionality was inadequate.

According to this panel, the real power of Web services is in enabling new semantic definitions of data held in disparate systems. The ability to look at your data in combination, to bring it together, allows you to leverage it in ways not available before. It allows you to create new functionality centered around data access, data management, and business process monitoring. In a presentation immediately preceding this panel discussion, John Stone and JP Morgenthal declared that it won't be mere exposure of existing functionality but rather a massive demand for semantic standards that will ultimately drive interoperability.

This view of Web services is penetrating the marketplace. Based on their Web services management system, Infravio recently deployed a series of applications at an industrial supplies company. Using Java-based Web services, Infravio exposed existing business functionality but then wrote caching code and combined the two to provide real-time access to the company's back-end SAP system.

In talking to Jim Bole, Infravio's VP of engineering, I learned that for his client, the true value of this project was not the exposure of existing functionality but rather the ability to manage the hundreds of services being exposed in this way. While initially this will be an internal facing system only, the company intends to publish it to its suppliers as well. Other values these Web services provide include short time-to-market and a new semantic architecture that allows them to decouple back-end lock in. Let's not forget that it was Java that solved the performance problems by enabling caching. This was a pure Java addition to Web services.

It is this sort of usage that will expand the adoption of Web services and that adoption will spur the standards.

Back in October 2000, Forrester Research coined a new and rather silly term: X Internet. There were two presentations that fell under the title "Financial Application Deployment with Web Services and the X Internet." It was during the first of these that Michael Baresich, CEO of CoKinetic, suggested mostly tongue-in-cheek that Forrester came up with this term to sell more reports. Then he defined it: the X Internet is a sloppy term for a thin-client technology that adds more functionality on the client side than is possible with just HTML.

A much better term for this concept is rich client. I have Michael Curry, Altio's director of product and services, to thank for that phrase. Such applications bridge the gap between 100% thin-client/HTML solutions and more traditional client/server applications. In your basic browser-based application, what you present to your user is HTML. Doesn't matter how fancy you are on the server side servlets, JSPs, and STRUTs the result is a static HTML document. At best, this is a compromise. Rich-client applications offer a more robust interface. Curry gave the second X Internet presentation and demonstrated that such applications can offer improved visualization, real-time data (subsecond data updates as opposed to hitting the "refresh" button), and client-side data manipulation.

There are a number of vendors in this product space and they take a variety of approaches. CoKinetic has its CoKinetic Player, which is appropriate for institutional uses. Written in C++, the player is a 2MB download and has a 5MB footprint. However, once installed, ideally as part of the corporate desktop image, it's launched transparently when a user clicks on a link for a CoKinetic application. Synchrony Systems offers Sizzle, a Swing-based rich-client system. Altio wrote its own Java client for the client side of its Altio Live suite of products. All three offer a developer's toolkit for building the user interfaces, and each of these products accepts XML messages to define and update the UI as well as to carry the data to the application.

Altio presents a true Java success story. Its entire product is written in 100% Java. There is the AltioLive Presentation Server that receives messages from your server-side applications and then sends the output to the browser where the AltioLive Smart Client sits. The Smart Client has a 200Kb footprint and handles all the rendering in the browser. Altio chose this approach rather than a more traditional applet for a variety of reasons. First, size. That 200Kb application contains all the UI controls, all the rendering, a DOM and JAX Pack interpreter, as well as the logic for communicating with the server. By building their own client, Altio is able to have better browser compatibility as well. Using the 1.1 JVM, AltioLive Smart Client can work with 4.0 browsers and forward. This way, no one has to download a plug-in to use an Altio application.

I challenged Curry during his presentation, asking how Altio is guarding against backsliding toward the old fat-client problems. His response was that Altio is dedicated to a very strict Model-View-Controller paradigm and the only functionality they put on the client side is the View. Granted, that View is richer than you can get with just HTML, but it is strictly a View. In addition, after the initial client load, the only data that comes down the pipe is XML, so it's easily compressed, and the presentation server needs to send only the data.

Now, being a Java shop, even a good Java shop, is not what makes Altio a success. It's their client base. They've recently installed an AltioLive-based system at The Hartford, a large insurance company. The Hartford has replaced the front end of their old claims-handling system with a rich UI-based system in Altio. The Hartford's primary reason is that they wanted a thin, Web-based client but they needed more functionality than was available in HTML. And the development time with Altio's development environment was much quicker than they would have been able to achieve with a more traditional JSP-based application. Altio is installing systems for seven or eight additional clients who all have similar reasons for choosing Altio better functionality and faster development.

.  .  .

Conferences present you with a great opportunity to discover what is happening in the industry. This is why SYS-CON was pleased to see how many developers, IT managers, and vendors had attended their Web Services Edge 2002 West Conference & Expo, October 13, in San Jose, CA, where as in New York City Java-based Web services were very prominent.

Author Bio
Steven Berkowitz has done development and project management for Fortune 100 companies, startups, and nonprofit organizations. He recently started techniCrafters to provide Web development services to small business and Municipalities. [email protected]

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