Online exclusive: With the launch of Visual Studio .NET, Xerox and other customers are ready to evaluate the business benefits of adopting Microsoft's technology or Sun's.
Is the battle over Web-services development platforms finally poised to move beyond rhetoric and deliver real return on investment?
With Microsofts official unveiling Feb. 13 of Visual Studio .NET, its long-awaited and long-delayed development-tool suite, the war of words is likely to shift into a new phase.
Until now, developers interested in plotting the ROI of Microsofts next-generation .NET tool suite against Sun Microsystems Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) didnt have a final, shipping product from Microsoft to use in making their calculations.
Visual Studio and J2EE are collections of programming languages and associated tools and utilities. The newest generations of these development environments are tailored to help programmers write Web servicessoftware components that are available over the Web rather than stand-alone, static applications.
J2EE is backed not only by Sun, but also by BEA, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and other software vendors. But Microsoft has been corralling its own set of software vendor allies to back its .NET Web-services strategy and products. It will tout many of them during the San Francisco Visual Studio .NET launch.
One Microsoft customer and partner says the wait for Visual Studio .NET has been worth it.
Xeroxs Global Services Division did its own preliminary calculations as to which Web-services development environment to use in building a printer-management Web service that Xerox uses in-house as well as sells commercially.
"Time to application was a big deal for us," says Art Smith, vice president of marketing and business strategy for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Xerox Global Services division. "When we developed the first version of our printer management software (using the older version of Microsofts Visual Studio running on Windows 2000), it took us 18 months. The new version of our productwith 80% new codetook us only six months with 20% fewer people on the project."
Smith says Xerox considered moving from Visual Studio to Java when developing the new version of its CentreWare Web printer service but found the early test versions of Visual Studio .NET to meet more of the companys needs.
"With Java, we would have had to write a wrapperor, if we needed to develop our own event log, would have had to write it ourselves, test it, support it and worry about backwards compatibility," Smith says. With Visual Studio .Net, Xerox is relying on Microsoft-developed and -supplied facilities, such as the registry, event logs and utilities, rather than writing its own versions of these elements, Smith says.
Xerox also moved from using Visual Basic, one of the programming languages that is part of Visual Studio, to Microsofts newest languageits self-proclaimed Java killer called C#when developing the second version of its printer-management Web service, Smith says.
He says Xerox did so in order to capitalize on the interoperability and integration C# provides. Smith says interoperability with products such as Computer Associates Unicenter, IBMs Notes and various customer-relationship management and enterprise-resource planning systems will be especially important to Xerox as it develops other Web services for document management and imaging as well as printer management.
While Xerox Global Services seems intent on putting all its eggs in the .NET basket, a number of large companies are dabbling with both J2EE and .NET in different divisions within their organizations.
The financial division of Ford Motor Co., for example, is a poster child for Suns J2EE environmentso much so that Sun featured on its Web site a day before Microsofts Visual Studio launch a case study
describing how Ford Financial is using J2EE as the foundation for a Web-services platform the automaker is building.
Ford is using J2EE and the larger Sun Web services platform, called Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE) to develop and support workflow; customer relationship management (CRM); and credit-processing applications. Ford is building its business-to-business and business-to-employee systems in conjunction with Suns consulting arm, Sun Professional Services, according to the case study.
But Microsoft also highlighted Ford Motors use of its own .NET Web services products and technologies last year, when Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates highlighted during his Office XP keynote speech
Fords pilot supply-chain project that made use of Office XP components and other .NET technologies.
In the coming months, Microsoft and the J2EE camp will likely trade even sharper barbs. The volume of whitepapers examining .NET and J2EE will surely proliferate, especially as customers begin to go public with the dollar savings achieved using one development environment versus the other. Stay tuned for the war of the Web services world, Part Two.