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Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu

Has it really been a year since the last JavaOne? It seems like yesterday that I was watching James Gosling launch T-shirts into the audience using a trebuchet! What a year it has been. Who would have thought that Microsoft and Sun would come to the agreement they did? Those of us watching the JBoss saga were relieved when an agreement halted overt hostilities on that front. With all of this behind us, we could focus on the next challenge in enterprise computing: Microsoft's best shot at infiltrating enterprise computing, the .NET platform.

The future seems full of opportunities. All the vendors are looking at an expanding market for their products. Given the number of companies that have invested in the technology that we've all come to be passionate about, why should we worry about the new platform that has recently come into being? Though people are sniffing at it, no one is using it for anything serious. Does it really matter that the technology that we depend on is owned and sponsored by a single company? After all, we do have IBM, the perennial anchor in the IT industry, on board. They have invested a lot of resources and have focused a lot in this direction. Surely they are doing this because they see this as the future of enterprising computing. More important, businesses feel secure in the knowledge that IBM is a major player in the market even if the competition is a giant. That platform is new and unproven. From a purely technical perspective, the technology looks inferior in many respects and certainly scalability and performance would appear to be an issue. On the other hand, we have a history of successes, a proven track record that is irrefutable in enterprise computing. To further illustrate this point, look at the number of companies that are offering products and services in addition to IBM. Certainly this competition has to be a good sign, a good indication or validation of the strength of the market. But still, there are some doubts, some nagging points that have raised questions.

The first and most worrisome source of our doubts has to be the seeming trouble that the guardian of the technology has had in remaining profitable. This has led to a number of people in the industry wondering out loud about the long-term viability of the company. Sure the company is cash rich, but how long can it continue to suffer these losses before some drastic action will need to be taken? In a not-so-unrelated issue, our guardian has managed to corral a fairly substantial brain trust and, now, that trust is starting to disperse. Okay, companies do lose key people over time and healthy organizations are able to continue to function. Why should we worry? ParcPlace will survive these setbacks because after all, Java will never amount to anything.

The problem is, ParcPlace (and yes, I do mean ParcPlace) didn't survive these "minor" setbacks and with it, the superior technology, Smalltalk, has again been relegated to obscurity. Although, there are not so many insignificant differences between Sun and ParcPlace as there are startling similarities. Sadly, the Smalltalk community never recognized the threat that Java posed. IBM quickly hoisted the anchor and moved to Java. Though IBM's revenues still continued to grow well after the industry proclaimed Smalltalk to be a has-been technology, its growth was more like that of rocket ship that has blown up just after take-off. Even as this was happening, the feeling in the community was that both languages could coexist.

The reality is that Smalltalk, Java, and the C#/.NET platforms are all very different from each other. Each requires a special set of skills and it takes a special person to be able to work effectively in more than one environment. Consequently, businesses are forced to make a choice between them. More often than not that choice comes down to cost. How much will it cost to deliver business-critical functionality in each of these technologies? As technologists, we understand that the accounting of these costs is less than perfect, but in the end they do work. Once more, the largest portion of the costs is acquiring the manpower required to develop enterprise systems. If manpower is the major consumer of resources required to build and deploy a piece of software, it's also the place where small gains in productivity can offer the largest return on investment.

One of the differences between Sun and ParcPlace is that Sun clearly understands that to really be successful, it needs to help developers be more productive. The realization of this understanding has resulted in Project Rave, Java Studio Creator - a positive step forward. I look forward to seeing more announcements at JavaOne that outline how Sun plans to secure its future.

More Stories By Kirk Pepperdine

Kirk Pepperdine has more than 10 years of experience in OO technologies. In edition to his work in the area of performance tuning, Kirk has focused on building middleware for distributed applications.

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