Java use limited in critical apps
August 26, 1998
by Carol Sliwa
(IDG) -- Java hysteria is dying down: Three years after the programming language's much-ballyhooed introduction, most companies still aren't using it in a business-critical way, according to users and analysts.
Despite the hype, the technology created by Sun Microsystems, Inc. is still maturing, and companies are still learning how and when to use it, particularly in Internet, intranet and extranet environments. Object-oriented programmers with the necessary Java and business experience are hard to find. Many corporate information technology staffs are fully occupied wrestling with more pressing year 2000 and enterprise resource planning projects.
Still other users are committed to Microsoft Corp. technology and either don't see an urgent need to test the Java waters or harbor concerns about Sun's tussle with Microsoft over the latter's Windows-centric approach to Java.
"Java's only 3 years old, but it has expectations put on it of a 20-year-old development technology," said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, Inc. "We have to recognize that it's going to take time. It will be well into 2000 before there are large numbers of big, complex Java applications."
"Companies have so much investment in their existing infrastructure that they have to take a very measured approach to introducing new technologies," said Larry Perlstein, an analyst at Dataquest in San Jose, Calif.
Those issues aside, down the road, all signs point to users taking Java in a business-critical direction over the next two to five years. Among the growing pool of evidence are the following indicators:
"It's not whether Java will be used -- it's how Java will be used," said Ron Rappaport, an analyst at Zona Research, Inc. in Redwood Shores, Calif., referring to the Sun vs. Microsoft battle.
A recent study by Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., showed that 24 of 50 Fortune 1,000 companies expect Java to be important or critical to their development strategy by 2000. This year, only 18% could say that.
And Computerworld's Buyers Database shows that 45% of 7,590 polled organizations with 250 or more employees are now developing applications that use Java. In 12 months, 70% of those companies expect to use Java, and with good reason.
"The technology has reached a reasonable level of maturity, and the tools and platforms to run it on will be more universally available," Perlstein said.
"Java is just plain a better language," said Rob Janes, a technical adviser at Cummins Engine Co. in Columbus, Ind. "They took the good parts of C++, left the garbage behind and added neater parts to replace the garbage."
An Ernst & Young LLP survey of 60 information technology executives at global corporations found that many expect they will need to Web-enable their applications for suppliers, remote workers and customers once they have completed ERP and year 2000 projects, said Colette Coad, who directs the Java service line that Ernst &Young set up in October.
"Of all the companies I deal with worldwide, most have decided that they're going to go Java come hell or high water," Plummer said. "But -- and this is a big but -- they don't know how they're going to do it."
Among the quickest to find a mission-critical purpose for Java have been financial and telecommunications companies, where payback for speedy development can be significant because the applications often involve high-dollar transactions, industry observers said.
Financial institutions "are always early adopters of new technology because of the demands of the trading room," said Tom Nunn, managing director of global capital markets technology at BankBoston Corp. "You owe it to the business to as cost-effectively as possible meet their needs. Java helps us rapidly prototype, develop and implement solutions."
BankBoston is finishing off an application that will help traders, sales staff and eventually institutional investors get the real-time pricing, bond and other information they need to make split-second decisions. Because the application has to run on PCs and Unix workstations in a distributed World Wide Web-based architecture, Java was a good choice, Nunn said.
Though client-side Java has been more prevalent to date, users appear to be recognizing the merits of more recently emerging and maturing server-side Java technology. A new Computerworld study shows that 48% of 103 information systems professionals in companies that use Java are writing server-side Java applications.
Analysts said they expect Java use to grow more popular on the server as companies increasingly turn to object-oriented programming to write three- and n-tier applications that can be distributed across internal networks or the Internet. Programmers can separate out the business logic into the middle tier and more easily connect to multiple databases or mainframe data.
The emergence during the next six months of application servers that support Enterprise JavaBeans (components that can help companies package essential business functions, such as database access, transaction processing or security) will further drive companies in that direction, analysts predicted.
"You can't operate an application that's mission-critical without the full runtime environment that gives you reliable, highly available and scale applications with all the things you've come to expect -- load balancing and fail-over support and management tools," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group.
Ernst & Young, for instance, already is developing an application to the Enterprise JavaBeans specification to give Standards & Poor's customers access via Internet browsers to articles on financial risk assessment ratings and related topics.
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