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IBM makes its move on Java

IBM's Java strategy includes using various forms of the technology as a glue to tie together disparate computing systems within large companies.

SAN FRANCISCO--The largest computing company in the world is making its move on Java.

At a briefing here today on the eve of the JavaOne conference, IBM (IBM) outlined its Java strategy with a focus on using various forms of the technology as a glue to tie together disparate computing systems within large companies.

In a series of short presentations, IBM representatives discussed upcoming products and ongoing initiatives, all the while positioning itself as a competitor to Sun Microsystems, with whom IBM has worked closely to develop and promote Java.

"We're not going to let Sun get all the sales on this," said Pat Sueltz, IBM's general manager of Java software.

Sueltz emphasized IBM's reputation as a top-to-bottom solutions provider that a company can approach for help in putting together a large-scale infrastructure which incorporates Java. The company's Java priorities for 1998 are promoting adoption of the network computer, stabilizing existing Java APIs and expanding the types of functions available on the platform, strengthening industry partnerships, and encouraging Java developers.

But Sueltz and other IBM executives made it clear that they don't possess the same "100 percent pure Java" fervor so often publicized by Sun.

"You don't have to go 100 percent all the way pure to get a benefit from Java," said Ian Brackenbury, chief scientist at IBM's laboratories in Hursley Park, England.

Brackenbury outlined the reasons to use the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) framework, a software architecture that lets developers build large-scale applications from prebuilt pieces of Java code that don't have to reside on the same server in a company network. However, the promise of "snap-together" applications is several years away, said Brackenbury, and EJBs are "the first step on the road to much more code reuse."

While Sueltz also stressed the cooperative nature of the Sun-IBM relationship, she acknowledged that alliances in the tech industry traditionally don't last long. When asked if IBM's relationship with Sun was so strong that Big Blue would turn down a lower licensing fee from Hewlett-Packard, which announced Friday it had created its own embedded Java virtual machine, Sueltz said, "No, we wouldn't."

As previously reported by NEWS.COM, IBM is using this week's conference to promote EJBs as the way to tie together heterogeneous computing platforms. Analysts in attendance were quick to point out that many of those older platforms--mainframe computers, for example--are IBM products, and Java is a way for IBM to extend the life of those "legacy" systems as it fights to preserve its business OS market share from the encroachment of Windows NT and the top Unix systems.

According to one analyst, IBM's Java message for server-side computing is akin to Microsoft's message on the client side.

"Microsoft says that for really good client-side [Java] applications, you have to use Windows services, and IBM is saying that for really good transactions [and other server-side Java applications], you have to use IBM services," said David Folger, program director of workgroup computing strategies at analyst firm The Meta Group.

IBM will integrate support for EJBs across its product line, including the VisualAge and Component Broker development tools by year end and the TXSeries transaction processing application development package.

Other announcements:

-- Order processing and inventory management have been added to the "San Francisco" Java development framework, which gives enterprise developers prebuilt chunks of code on which to base their applications.

-- IBM's Lotus Development will begin shipping the eSuite DevPack this week. The pack gives developers business applets and development tools for Web-based applications. Also shipping this week from Lotus is the Domino Toolkit for Java. The Domino 5 release will add support for CORBA/IIOP.

-- ServletExpress, a software plug-in that turns Web servers from Lotus, Apache, Netscape, and Microsoft into Java application servers. ServletExpress is now available in beta.

-- jCentral is a search site for access to information about Java and pointers to applets, JavaBeans, and source code.

-- The JDK 1.1.4 for OS/390 will ship in April.