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IBM lends Sun Java help

The two will develop a way for Sun's own protocol for Java components to work with the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol.

More than a year after it promised to back a key Internet protocol, Sun Microsystems said yesterday that it will work with IBM to develop a way for Sun's protocol for Java components to communicate across a network to work on the Net.

While Sun and IBM said the agreement will make it easier to build distributed applications combining Java and CORBA technology, there's some debate over the true merits--and motives--behind the announcement.

Sun pointed to higher priorities for its own developers in explaining it has made little headway in the last year. However, IBM and Sun have worked with the Object Management Group--the standards body that handles CORBA--to win approval of a method for mapping Sun's Remote Method Invocation (RMI) to the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP).

CORBA, or Common Object Request Broker Architecture, is a standard way to build software objects. Microsoft Windows supports a competing scheme, based on Microsoft's COM (component object model) architecture.

"Technologically, they should do this, and it will be a benefit when there is released code. Until then, it's just hot air," said Martin Marshall, an analyst with Zona Research."People want to know when. It's the 'where's the beef' question."

Another big question is just how useful the linkage between Java and CORBA really is.

In June last year, Sun announced its intent to let RMI work with IIOP, aiming to make it easier for developers who create software objects.

The Java RMI technology lets developers of distributed Java applications treat remote objects and their methods as if they are local objects. When RMI is combined with CORBA, it will allow combined Java and CORBA implementations, faster turnaround, and better access to reusable software code, Sun claims.

But some observers see the announcement as more of a political move, intended to keep the non-COM camp--Sun, IBM, Novell, and others--from splintering over CORBA and JavaBeans issues. A Java that works with CORBA, no matter how rudimentarily, is better than a divided front against Microsoft and COM, goes the reasoning.

And developers claim that the message from Sun, until now anyway, has been pure Java first. "The message at JavaOne was loud and clear: build all Java solutions, especially distributed solutions, using pure Java to the exclusion of CORBA and COM," said one Java developer, who wished to remain anonymous.

For IBM, the real value in the linkage between Java and CORBA is in access to legacy systems. CORBA has found a niche as a technology for "wrapping" legacy code, written in C, C++, Smalltalk, and COBOL so it can be accessed using object technology. Many large banks and financial services companies--IBM's traditional blue-chip customers--are using this approach to integrate older applications with new development.

Sun has had trouble hitting its software deadlines. As previously reported, Sun has delayed shipment of JDK 1.2. The workstation maker and Big Blue also announced 18 months ago that they were building a common naming and directory scheme--a joint syntax for naming and directory for CORBA.

The RMI interface over IIOP initially will be a standard extension to the Java Development Kit (JDK) software version 1.1.6. For JDK 1.2, which already is running late, the new RMI interface also will be a standard extension, but Sun intends to incorporate the technology into later releases of the JDK.

Ian Brackenbury, chief technologist at IBM's Center for Java Technology in Hursley, England, said code for the new interface is running in a laboratory and will go into limited release this summer. He expects it to be released near the end of this year.