Tools Advance Web Services

Beta releases of Microsoft's, Sun's high-end offerings push .Net and Sun ONE platform agendas.

Like any new ecosystem, web services need a rich support structure to survive. Microsoft Corp. hopes its .Net architecture, bred for this new environment but with no experience in the wild, will be a fitter competitor than Sun Microsystems Inc.s Sun ONE, which is based on Suns established Java platform.

Key parts of this IT ecosystem are tools that will make it easy for developers to code for .Net or Sun ONE (Open Network Environment). eWeek Labs tested Microsofts and Suns respective high-end development tools, Visual Studio .Net Enterprise Architect Beta 2 and Forte for Java 3.0 Enterprise Edition beta (the Early Access release) to see how well each will support an organization developing Web services.

Visual Studio .Net will ship by years end; prices have not been announced. Forte for Java 3.0 Enterprise Edition will ship this month for Windows NT 4.0, Solaris 8 and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 6.2 and will be priced at $1,995.

Before making a strategic tools choice, its critical for IT departments to consider which platform makes more sense for them.

With the luxury of starting from scratch, Microsoft has designed a new programming model in .Net explicitly for Web services and Internet programming. Its also the most costly and complex Windows development upgrade in a decade and will require major retraining of staff, as well as changes—from minor to significant—to existing code bases, particularly for Visual Basic programs and VBScript-based ASP (Active Server Pages) Web pages.

Those who wish to develop .Net applications will find Visual Studio .Net indispensable not only because of its outstanding usability and deeply integrated .Net focus but also because it has little competition in its space.

The Java platform was an equivalent change when it was introduced more than six years ago, but its now a mature, well-tested and well-established server programming language.

Java developers, therefore, have more tools choices. Forte for Java gains appeal with its new support for EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) creation and its ability to deploy code to the Sun-Netscape Alliances iPlanet Application Server (we tested with iPlanet Application Server 6.0) and XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based Web services. However, it competes with more- polished products, such as Borland Software Corp.s JBuilder. In addition, Forte for Javas lack of SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is a big drawback.

Both of these platforms, however, have big gaps—more because of vendor politics than of technology. Forte for Java supports only Java programming, of course, while Visual Studio .Net provides a single editing environment supporting development in C++, C#, Visual Basic and ECMAScript (but not Java) languages.

Future versions of Forte for Java will support multilanguage development, according to Sun officials.