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J2EE: A Standard in Jeopardy?

J2EE: A Standard in Jeopardy?

By now you've probably either heard about or read the analyst report from the Burton Group entitled "J2EE in Jeopardy."

In summary, the claim is J2EE as a standard is in danger due to several market forces:

  1. Market commoditization: Open source players like Apache, JBoss, and ObjectWeb are commoditizing the platform, making it harder for vendors to profit from J2EE server licenses. If vendors can't make money on J2EE, they won't want to continue to invest in the specification.
  2. "Disruptive" technologies: In the last year the complexity of J2EE's programming model - EJB - has been challenged. Simpler, more productive models have emerged from within the open source community and have garnered widespread acceptance in a short time. Credited innovators here include the Spring Framework and Hibernate ORM.
The report goes on to make recommendations to mitigate risks for end users and vendors alike. In summary:
  1. End users should turn over responsibility for generic J2EE infrastructure to proven providers in the open source world. You shouldn't abandon J2EE, but should consider some of the "alternative" frameworks in the open source community.
  2. Vendors should focus on building a "J2EE super platform." Basically, innovate in areas where open source hasn't already preempted competition through commoditization.
As a Spring Framework user/developer and a strong believer in our value proposition and development philosophy, I came away from all of this with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it's great to see the work of the Spring, Hibernate, Apache, and other quality open source teams getting endorsement and credibility. The cat is out of the proverbial bag: open source is a force of innovation to be respected and certainly not underestimated. Outsourcing infrastructure to proven open source providers is a very effective strategy for companies looking to deliver working software better/faster/cheaper. Complimenting quality open source offerings with strategic commercial products and services is an effective model for infrastructure providers looking to further penetrate the market.

On the other hand, I feel the casual reader might come away with a bad spin on what's happening here. I can see it now - a corporate manager faced with a major technology investment decision happens across this article (or others like it) and concludes J2EE is in chaos. Or worse, concludes the open source community is out building flavor-of-the-month "alternative frameworks" that "reinvent the wheel" because the "standard" platform doesn't cut it. Not exactly the impression we want to make to grow the enterprise Java market.

This is where our community must step in and set that manager straight. J2EE is not in a state of chaos. There are simply more good choices for J2EE infrastructure than ever before. And from what I've experienced, there are many more J2EE success stories. Second, these "alternative" frameworks absolutely do not "reinvent the wheel in open source." They all build on standard J2EE services to improve developer productivity; they are not replacements for the platform.

Indeed, Spring and Hibernate - the leading so-called "alternative" frameworks - are challenging the J2EE programming model while embracing the J2EE technology platform. This is a critical distinction. With Spring particularly, you get the power and maturity of the J2EE stack with a simplicity comparable to that of the .NET programming model. And you get it all with less cost and considerably more business leverage (choice).

How is this possible? When you step back and look at J2EE, there is a lot to it. J2EE consists of:

  1. A standard set of enterprise services addressing typical infrastructure needs, including transaction management (JTA), dynamic user content (servlets/JSP/JSF), database access (JDBC), service lookup (JNDI), asynchronous messaging (JMS), management (JMX), and remoting (RMI/Web services).
  2. A standard programming model for tapping into the power of the above services, gluing the individual pieces together into a consistent software delivery platform.
We love the enterprise services. Nobody can match the power and maturity of the J2EE technology stack. However, today's pragmatic developer isn't so keen on the EJB programming model that builds on these services. It's complex, invasive, dated, and overengineered for most developer needs. It's not consistent. I have to jump through hoops just to run my business logic in different environments, for example. I incur the costs of JTA when all my application needs is a single database. The list of unnecessary costs goes on.

Enter the "alternative" frameworks. Spring, in particular, has given our community a framework that not only makes it easier to tap into the power of J2EE, but captures best practices on what services to use when given your business requirements. The result? More developers, architects, and managers are getting smarter about the infrastructure they need for the given job at hand. Developer productivity is up.

For over a year I've personally leveraged the Spring Framework as the base architecture for my development projects. I now treat J2EE infrastructure as a separate concern, one fully decoupled from the business logic ("core meat") of my application. Spring gives me the power to choose which deployment environment and technologies are most appropriate given the complexity of the domain problem at hand. That puts me in command - if all I need is a Web container to power a Web app with a single data source, a solution like Tomcat is the best cost. For middleware-intensive applications that require messaging, global transactions, and remoting, a higher-end application server is worth the investment. In all cases, my programming model stays simple and consistent, grounded in my customer's problem domain.

I can't say it enough, J2EE is better than ever - for the consumer. I read success story after success story from developers working on projects with products like Spring and Hibernate. They're leveraging them in all kinds of environments and application servers to support demands on all scales. Today is a great time to be developing enterprise applications in Java. It's a great time to be a consumer. We've got the technology, the platform, and the community - it's only going to get better. Who can stop us now?

More Stories By Keith Donald

Keith Donald is a software consultant, mentor, and Java application developer for Interface21, Limited. He's been a believer in The Spring Framework since he started leveraging it in real projects in July 2003.

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