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European users take on Java for big jobs

by Carol Sliwa

May 7, 1999
Web posted at: 4:53 p.m. EDT (2053 GMT)

PARIS (IDG) -- Banque General du Luxembourg is doing something that many U.S. companies still might be hesitant to try: an enterprisewide application, built by 70 developers, that relies on a million lines of Java code for a key business function.

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Historically conservative, European companies have been slow to deploy Java applications for a variety of reasons. But a growing number are starting to take the Sun Microsystems Inc.-created language seriously enough to forge ahead with business-critical applications that rival those of U.S.-based companies.

That's a positive sign for Java's future -- particularly given mounting user concerns that Microsoft Corp. may drop its Java support.

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In fact, Gartner Group Inc. predicted that Java won't be marginalized by Microsoft and will become the most popular language and platform technology for network computing applications by 2004. In a presentation at the Java Enterprise Solutions Symposium here, Gartner estimated that worldwide Java adoption is 20% to 40% slower than in the U.S.

Java "is transitioning to the norm rather than the exception in the U.S. Here [in Europe], it's still the exception. But those exceptions ... are no less advanced than the U.S.," said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group.

At the Luxembourg bank, employees had to go to a different 3270 text-based screen for each of its roughly 20 mainframe applications. Customers who had savings accounts, loans and an investment portfolio had to wait for a bank employee to switch among the different applications.

With help from Andersen Consulting, the bank spent two years overhauling its mainframe-based architecture. It wrote custom code in both Java and Cobol to build a Java component-based system to integrate information and transaction interfaces from the various legacy databases.

Employees at the bank's 42 branches got an easier-to-use screen that can incorporate graphs, video, audio -- even worldwide stock quotes -- in one view. Banque General du Luxembourg can now focus on training workers to sell its products, said Marc Aguilar, technology director.

The Java component architecture also will make it easier to create an Internet banking site by year's end because developers will be able to reuse much of the code.

Like their U.S. counterparts, European developers said they find Java easier to work with than other object-oriented languages, which speeds development time.

They also like its platform independence and object-oriented model for connecting to legacy systems.

Those that have resisted Java bemoan its performance, are reluctant to rewrite existing legacy-based applications or claim that they have trouble finding qualified application developers.

International broker Prebon Yamane Inc. chose Java to help build an extranet that will let it push prices -- at the rate of hundreds per second -- to the investment banks that buy and sell money through them. The London-based brokerage had been using an expensive, proprietary network to deal with its top customers.

On the server side, Java kept the company in sync with its vendor and client partners, said Patrick McGrath, information technology director for Prebon Yamane's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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