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Developers get hooked on Java

No other development language has spread across the computer industry as quickly as Java, which has garnered a record amount of interest from the corporate installations that are normally most reluctant to adopt new technologies.

No other development language has spread across the computer industry as quickly as Java, the cross-platform language pioneered by Sun Microsystems (SUNW), which has garnered a record amount of interest from the corporate installations that are normally reluctant to adopt new technologies.

Despite its youth--Java debuted only one year ago--recent analyst reports indicate that an astonishing 60 percent of developers in Fortune 1000 companies expect to be actively developing Web applications in Java within the year.

What's more, it looks like corporate developers will be relying on Java instead of C++ or other more familiar languages to build both cutting-edge Web apps and nuts-and-bolts information systems, which all but guarantees Java's long-term acceptance by corporate IS.

The Javafest is compelling, even for large and usually conservative businesses, for a myriad of reasons.

The most important reason is Java's main claim to fame: Applets are small, easy to distribute over the Net, and truly platform-independent. A single applet can run on Windows, Unix, and Macintosh systems without modification, greatly reducing development costs for companies who support multiple operating systems. Try this with C++ or Visual Basic and you'll see why companies jump at the chance to use a language designed to be portable.

Java also doesn't require the massive retraining that some earlier language shifts did. Java's syntax is very similar to that of C++, meaning that developers can learn the language and start building working applications in as little as four weeks, according to analysts.

Lost somewhere in the Java hoopla is the fact that current Java development tools are woefully inadequate for building the nuts-and-bolts IS applications, like payroll, order entry, and e-commerce systems commonly linked to back-end databases. And although applets are small, when they are combined with the requisite client software, Java applications can require significant resources.

This means that, so far, most Java applets are little more than window-dressing trinkets on Web pages, such as spinning logos and flapping mailboxes.

But with the Java hype machine in overdrive and fueled by major industry players such as Netscape Communications, Microsoft and Oracle, there is little doubt that the tools necessary for building Java systems that rival existing client-server applications are more than a few months off.

"Java will become a major piece of the corporate computing landscape," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research. Dolberg said that in a recent survey conducted by Forrester, some 60 percent of corporate IS developers said they will be actively working with Java in a year, and that Java will become a strategic language for new development within two years.

"Java won't take over the corporate landscape. But corporations are drawing a line in the sand for client-server development, and saying that for new development, they will focus on new technologies like Java," said Dolberg.

New Java-based tools that mimic the database-centric tools found in IS favorites such as Powersoft's PowerBuilder, Microsoft Visual Basic, and other tools, are now shipping, or are slated to debut in the coming months. Symantec, which shipped one of the first Java development toolsets earlier this year, last month shipped Visual Caf?, a Java-based graphical package. Powersoft said it will ship a toolset code-named Starbuck, for building server-side Java applications by mid-1997. And IBM recently debuted tools for building cross-platform Java applications.

The availability of these tools should secure Java's place with corporate IS for some time. In fact, while Java and the Internet have become synonymous, IS developers are also eyeing Java for non-Internet related applications, according to a recent survey by Morgan Stanley.

The developers were surveyed while attending a recent Java development conference so the results were probably biased in favor of Java. Nevertheless, more than 75 percent of attendees surveyed said they plan to use Java to build plain, old internal corporate applications.

Those same attendees pointed out that current Java tools are incomplete and require better debuggers, increased performance, and better database support. But nearly all lauded Java's cross-platform capabilities.

While Java's cross-platform advantages are its main attraction now for corporate developers, Forrester predicts that companies will appreciate Java in coming years mainly because it will help them deploy new applications of all kinds. The Forrester research indicates that the main use for Java among IS shops will be to build software delivery systems using Java applets and broadcast, or push, networks. These networks will cut the time and effort it takes to install and update software, especially across large enterprises with multiple locations.

"People will move to dynamically delivered applications that can easily be kept in sync with changing business conditions," said Dolberg.

Dolberg said one-third of IS developers polled by Forrester said they would stop installing code on client systems completely within two years, and will instead rely on Java applets pushed across corporate networks. That could make Java an indispensable ingredient in corporate applications.