For IBM, Bloom Is Off Its Java Rose

IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) is the first vendor to release multiplatform Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (www.sun.com) new Java 1.3 specification. Windows NT/2000 are among the four platforms supported, and IBM promises to eventually deliver JVMs to nine platforms. IBM, however, is tempering its enthusiasm for Java as an all-encompassing language of Web applications. Big Blue, in fact, is aiding development efforts of Microsoft Corp.'s (www.microsoft.com) Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), an emerging interoperability standard.

"We're serious about Java. We continue to see it as a core foundation technology. But it is not the only one," says Scott Hebner, director of e-business technology marketing at IBM. IBM regards Java as just one of a number of "foundation technologies," Hebner relates. Others include XML for data interchange; the Linux operating system; and the Apache Web server.

IBM is getting avid about the XML-based SOAP as an industry standard for cross-platform data interchange, Hebner says. Working with Microsoft and several other partners, IBM and its Lotus Development Corp. subsidiary (www.lotus.com) recently produced a proposal for SOAP 1.1, now under consideration at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, www.w3.org).

Downloadable from the IBM Web site, IBM's first four releases of JVM 1.3 run on Windows, Linux, AIX, and OS/390. Also planned are editions of JVM 1.3 for OS/400 and OS/2, as well as for three operating environments running on Intel's future Itanium: Windows 2000, Linux, and AIX/Monterey.

IBM is providing more broad-based platform support for JVM 1.3 than anyone else, according to Hebner. "You'll be able to access JVM from IBM on everything from a little mobile device all the way up to a mainframe," he notes. This wide-ranging platform support is simply an acknowledgment by IBM that Java "is what it is -- a standard for how you develop logic on servers," Hebner explains.

At one time, IBM saw Java as a cross-platform communications strategy. Now, XML is fulfilling that role better, Hebner maintains.

One aspect that is dampening enthusiasm for Java is that it is turning into a control point for Sun, Hebner claims. Linux, on the other hand, is an example of a standard that is truly open.

IBM was not pleased over Sun's recent decision to pull out of the ECMA standardization effort. So Big Blue intends to "drive the need the need for Java to become open," Hebner says. IBM, though, "doesn't want to get locked into either a Solaris or Microsoft environment," he says.

At the recent Microsoft TechEd show in Orlando, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, announced that SOAP will play a key role in achieving interoperability between Microsoft's future digital network architecture (DNA) servers and non-Microsoft platforms.

Microsoft unveiled a SOAP toolkit for the Visual Studio 6.0 application development environment, along with plans to use SOAP in rapid application development server tools expected to emerge in the forthcoming Visual Studio 7.0.

"We need to take Visual Studio and bring it to a different level," Gates remarked. The Microsoft chairman also noted that Microsoft's partners on SOAP include some companies that have been competitors. Gates predicted that SOAP will some day become "as pervasive as HTML."

Microsoft submitted version 0.9 of the SOAP specification to the IETF last September, soliciting industry feedback for the protocol. SOAP uses HTTP to pass XML information among diverse environments over the Internet.

"Through the exchange of XML messages, services can easily describe their capabilities and allow any other service, application or device on the Internet to easily invoke those capabilities," Microsoft officials say.

SOAP 1.1 was submitted to the W3C this past May, along with SOAP envelope and encoding schema. The SOAP 1.1 specification was co-authored by officials from Microsoft, IBM, Lotus, and UserLand Software Inc. (www.userland.com). Also playing a role were Ariba Technologies Inc., Commerce One Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and SAP AG.

The W3C staff has responded with a provisional disposition which states, in part, "SOAP is one of the existing protocols in the domain of XML-based protocols. However, its object serialization scheme needs to be more explicit, as in the architectural model of HTTP-NG, where inheritance of method description issues were addressed. Also, we think that security considerations should have a central place in such a design, as it is always difficult, if not impossible, to add security afterward."

W3C recently launched a mailing list for discussion of XML standards requirements and for comparison between several different protocols based on XML.