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ERP vendors wake up and smell the Java

Business application vendors up and down the spectrum are making Java an integral part of their multimillion-dollar software systems.

Java is no longer a novelty.

No. 1 SAP bought into it. So did PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards. Oracle is basing its whole business on it.

Business application vendors up and down the spectrum are latching on to the once amusing programming fad and making Java an integral part of their multimillion dollar software systems.

"Java's major inroad in the [enterprise resource planning] space is that it removes the platform support issue because of its 'write-once, run-anywhere' capability," said Joshua Greenbaum, analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, California. "That alone saves ERP vendors millions in testing and support for multiple platforms."

German titan SAP announced this week from its TechEd conference in Germany that it is building Java versions of its applications to run alongside versions written in SAP proprietary ABAP code.

"It is going to permit Java applications inside R/3," said Edward Markowitz, analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This is the bold move that Giga has come to expect from SAP--no, this is actually beyond that. It is a statement of direction, backed by 800 SAP development people in Walldorf working on all technology-enabling issues."

Java has become the sun that Oracle's world revolves around. From its database business to its applications, Oracle is betting on Java as a means of supporting Oracle's network architecture. Oracle has a vision of all of its applications running across the Internet and being able to write the software in Java has played a pivotal role in making that a reality.

PeopleSoft used Java to finally release a three-tier version of its product. Until a year ago, PeopleSoft's products could only run in a two-tier version which required much of the processing power to be located on individual users' desktop computers. This type of set-up is costly and vexing to maintain.

Then PeopleSoft rolled out Release 7 followed quickly by Release 7.5, which relied heavily on Java as a means of keeping most of the processing power on the server where it could be easily maintained and monitored.

When J.D. Edwards wanted to bring users of its AS/400 WorldVision product into the 21st century, the Denver firm turned to Java. Since last year, the product has been accessible through network computers or a browser because of a Java-based front end.

Greenbaum added that for most of the ERP vendors the Java push makes sense because all of them are now trying to build their once tightly integrated products in more loosely joined components.

"The enterprise Java bean model is important here," he said. "It allows these vendors to build componentized software from the ground up. I expect the big vendors will continue to use their proprietary languages internally for the core, but the software outside the core is going to be much more Java. The customer won't have to maintain a skill base for these [proprietary] languages. These vendors are going to push the interoperability capability as well. Once everything can be expressed as a Java bean or a component, you are going to have a relatively easy level of interoperability."

For now, Java is having its moment in the sun, driving up stock prices of any company that mentions the "J" word in a press release. But analysts like Greenbaum warn that the fad won't last forever and in no time talking about Java will be as exciting as talking about Cobol.

"You'll see. In a couple of years, Java will be a very mundane and boring issue because everything will be in Java," Greenbaum said.