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Sun and allies hawk Java for servers

With Microsoft's release of its Visual Studio .Net just weeks away, Java compliance is more important than ever, analysts say.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems touted the server-based version of its Java software at a press conference here Tuesday, just two weeks before Microsoft is set to release rival technology.

Five months ago, Sun released the latest version of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), a common way for companies to use the Java language to build business software for e-commerce and other Internet operations. At the core of this version is the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) programming model, which lets developers create reusable pieces of software code. It is a direct competitor to Microsoft's own software-programming model.

About a dozen software companies showed off their latest J2EE products at the event, including Sun, BEA Systems, IBM, Borland, Macromedia, Sybase and Computer Associates. Software companies must pass a rigorous set of tests to comply with the latest version of J2EE.

Analysts say it's more critical than ever for Java-friendly companies to show compliance with the latest Java server standard because Microsoft will release its Visual Studio .Net software-development tools Feb. 13.

Every software maker has promoted a vision for Web services, which let people access software over the Web on multiple devices, not just PCs. The Visual Studio .Net tools, part of Microsoft's overarching .Net strategy to move computing to the Web, will allow people to build Web services using Microsoft's operating systems. J2EE is the Java camp's standard for building Web services.

Java-based software is seen as competition to Microsoft because it can run on any device, regardless of the operating system or hardware.

"This event shows broad-based support for Java at a critical juncture in its history," said Illuminata analyst James Governor. "With Visual Studio .Net just weeks from release, the critical notion of 'Java compliance' is probably more important than ever."

Most noticeably absent from the event were Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, neither of which could pass the tests in time for the event. An Oracle representative expects the company to complete the Java compliance tests this quarter. HP could not be reached for comment, but one Sun executive said he expects that HP will also pass the tests soon.

Oracle and HP "are cranking away at it," said Rich Green, Sun's vice president for Java and XML Technologies.

It's crucial for Java companies to be up to date with the latest standard because of the stiff competition for customers, Illuminata's Governor said. Oracle's delay in passing the compliance tests for the latest J2EE standard temporarily hurts the company competitively, he said.

"In the past, for example, IBM was willing to lag a little behind the latest version of J2EE, but no longer," Governor said. "The vendors need the compliance stamp for partnering and customers."

BEA and IBM are currently the two market leaders in the lucrative market for Java-based application servers, software that businesses use for e-commerce and other Web site transactions. Oracle executives have spent the past half year touting their company's application server, hoping to surpass BEA and IBM in the market.

Other companies that have failed to pass the latest J2EE test include Iona Technologies.

Other software companies that have passed the test for this latest iteration of J2EE--version 1.3--include SAS, Pramati, Trifork and TogetherSoft.

J2EE version 1.3 features improved security; support for wireless technology; better support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for data exchange; and new connector technology that allows businesses to link different software programs together so they can communicate.

Sun plans to soon release a Web services pack of technologies for J2EE version 1.3 and will formally build it into the standard in version 1.4 later this year. Without Web services standards built into J2EE, companies such as IBM, SilverStream and Sybase have all released tool kits that offer different ways to build Web services using Java. They plan to adhere to a formal standard when such a standard is ready.