.Net Competitors Vie for Center Stage

New field offers alternatives to Microsoft's Web development strategies

BEA Systems Inc., Iona Technologies Corp. and iWay Software are showing that there are more options to developers looking to present their applications as Web services than the highly publicized .Net model from Microsoft Corp.

Each of these developers is rolling out Web services tools that should provide faster, more cost-effective integration of disparate IS.

One former Microsoft developer, Michael Hyman, is glad to see the new Web services options available now. "In the Java world, there is no wait for .Net," said Hyman, chief technology officer at Datachannel Inc., in Waltham, Mass. "Web services have been alive and kicking."

BEA is leading the way with new tools and a simplified architecture that promises to make it possible for nonprogrammers to develop online software services.

BEAs new offering, code-named Cajun and expected in the first half of 2002, is a platform and a set of tools that will allow developers to build integrated Web services without having deep Java knowledge. With Cajun, the business developer will not have to learn either the concepts of object-oriented design or Java APIs because most of that work is embedded in the Cajun architecture, said officials at BEA, of San Jose, Calif.

Cajun includes problem sets that address the typical scenarios that developers face when creating Web services. Ideally, the developer would need to write only four or five lines of code to accomplish complex tasks, such as talking with Enterprise JavaBeans or integrating messaging or other databases, officials said.

The tools implement the core technology of Crossgain Corp., a software development company BEA bought in July.

Cajuns graphical interface appeals to Sam Patterson, CEO of ComponentSource Inc., an online marketplace for software development tools.

"As software is changing it is being done in a building block sort of way, which is component-based, and those components are being Web-enabled to become Web services," said Patterson, in Kennesaw, Ga. "It is more about dragging and dropping components, visually being able to link components."

Meanwhile, EAI (enterprise application integration) software vendors Iona and iWay each are rolling out Web services frameworks that integrate disparate IS. The two vendors said application development is not where the power of Web services lies. Rather, its in the integration platform. In this spirit, Iona, of Waltham, has released Orbix E2A Application Server Platform in three editions: J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) Technology, Standard and Enterprise. Partner and Collaborate editions of the E2A Web services integration platform will be generally available Jan. 25, 2002.

E2A, an acronym for "End to Anywhere," has two parts: an Application Server Platform, where developers build Web services, and a Web Services Integration Platform, or WSIP, that processes services that come from other sources.

WSIP has an EAI capability, a business-to-business collaboration capability with support for XML and Web services standards, and a business process modeling capability. It includes the XML-based infrastructure that Iona gained when it bought Netfish Technologies Corp. in 2001.

iWay, a unit of Information Builders Inc., last week introduced its iWay Business Services framework, which will provide access to more than 140 proprietary information systems.

The iWay framework provides a graphical workbench to automatically generate iWay Business Services, which are Web services that incorporate or reuse data or functions from existing systems such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications.

The systems can then become interoperable with each other via the Internet, and data can be shared, said iWay officials in New York.

Vincent Maciejewski, chief architect at Spidertop Inc., believes that a good Web service should grow out of a well-designed and implemented enterprise application—something for which Microsoft tools are not well-suited.

"In my opinion, .Net does not go far enough, as it does not provide enough support for developing enterprise components," said Maciejewski, in Montreal. "It is not enough to wrap some [Visual Basic] or C++ code in a Web service protocol and turn it into a Web service because maintenance and reuse of business logic implemented on the server cannot be ignored. I really see .Net as a means of integrating Microsoft legacy systems with the rest of the world and not much else."

Developers such as Maciejewski count flexibility as an important attribute when planning their Web services strategy.

"One thing to watch out for with Microsoft is lock-in through the user interface," Maciejewski said. "Microsofts Visual Studio .Net is a powerful development environment that attempts to lock developers into a .Net server if they develop a rich user interface for their applications.

"I think ... you will see ... systems architects building systems using the J2EE server and then adding the Web services layer on top. So technologies that enable you to turn a J2EE system into a Web service will be of prime importance. IBMs Web Services ToolKit and related Sun ONE technologies, as well as BEA Cajun, are going to lead the way."

Additional reporting by Dennis Callaghan