Speculation is mounting that two key specifications for application components could merge, helping to prevent Microsoft taking control of the object development market. Industry insiders believe Javasoft's Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) could be merged within the year with the forthcoming component model from the Object Management Group standards body, which will be for building apps based on the Corba object specification.
Keith Jaeger, head of international product development at tools company Synon, said he expected Corba and EJB to have merged as early as the end of this year to prevent the industry splintering into two camps, so handing the object market over to Microsoft.
?Given all the vendors involved and the people with stakes in both camps, they have to get it sorted out or COM (Microsoft's Common Object Model) has got too much of an opening. It wouldn?t be that difficult to merge the technical standards, but it would be a mess for backwards compatibility. Still, you could write wrappers for old standards, and it?s better to take the pain now rather than later,? he said.
The OMG has been working for some time on Corba Beans, a component specification based on the Corba object request broker (Orb), and has already issued a request for proposal (RFP) for components and scripting technology, with a submission deadline of June.
Such vendors as Oracle, Netscape, IBM and Sunsoft have shown interest in becoming involved and the OMG is hoping they will offer Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) as their preferred choice.
But, this would mean OMG was wrestling with three overlapping development proposals. It has also issued RFPs for Business Object Facilities (BOF), which are aimed at programmers wanting to add business logic to their components, and for the Component Framework Initiative, which is trying to provide a unified model for building server-side components.
One source said: ?There?s a lot of confusion about how to bring them together, and it will take a good year to sort it out.?
However, the creation of a development standard is very important if Corba is to flourish, particularly against COM, because writing applications that work with Orbs is widely recognised as extremely difficult.
So the speculation that Javasoft's EJB, which was published as a specification in January,is likely to merge with Corba makes the situation even more complicated for those planning development strategies - although it could simplify things in the future.
Dennis Moore, Progress Software?s vice president of marketing, explained: ?The next major release of Corba and of EJB will be very tightly coupled, if not the same. They already overlap and most people?s Orbs are now written in or support Java. Java and Corba are just two different ways of getting at the same stuff, but I don?t think Corba is dead because EJB will make Corba more accessible and easy to use.?
A source close to the OMG claimed a merger was already taking place between the two specifications in the area of services.
?The Java Transaction Service (JTS) has the same functionality as the OMG?s Object Transaction Service (OTS) and it would be entirely practical to build one transaction manager and include both interfaces," he explained.p> The advantage for users, he believes, is that vendors could ship products faster and cheaper rather than be distracted in two different directions.
"As for developers, the logic and security of both models are the same, which means they would need to learn two interfaces, but only one model - and the underlying model is the most difficult thing about development," he went on. "It?s like trying to get to know a video recorder - the buttons may be different, but once you know how to programme one, you can programme them all.?
Colin Taylor, Sun?s business development manager for Java technologies, was more cautious. He said he did not believe the two specifications would merge, but does think they are complementary and will be used by different people for different reasons.
?EJB leverages Corba and a Corba client can access an EJB application. EJB doesn?t replace Corba and it won?t in future, but Corba technology can be used by EJB developers," he said. "EJB and Corba are complementary. There is room for both technologies, which are key to building enterprise systems,? he said.
Members of the OMG differed in their views, however. Andrew Watson, the OMG?s architecture director, said the organisation hoped EJB and Corba would move into close alignment because there was good synergy between the two specifications. But, he emphasised that Corba would always deal with multiple platforms and programming languages
Annrai O?Toole, technical director of Iona Technologies and OMG member, was adamant, on the other hand, that Corba would remain the dominant platform for distributed computing.
?EJB is based on Corba. It?s lifted the Corba concepts, but no merger is possible because the one is built on the other. Corba is for cross-platform development, while with EJB, you can only develop in Java," he said.
He had some criticisms to make of Java. "The OMG wants to see Java made simpler with tighter integration into the Corba model, and some work is under way, but Javasoft is often not as helpful as it could be," he claimed. "Java has been good for Corba in general, but it has not delivered on its promises. Java is just a small thing, just another programming language, and the Java platform doesn?t and won?t exist. The problems of distributed computing are being solved by Corba and COM,? he exclaimed.
But Neil Ward-Dutton, analyst at consultancy Ovum, thought the emergence of EJB was more likely to lead to the death of Corba because it would no longer be relevant.
?I wouldn?t be surprised if EJB meant that Corba withers away. EJB defines a set of enterprise middleware services such as naming, directory and security that are similar to Corba service definitions and I wouldn?t be surprised if the takeup of EJB meant that no-one cares about Corba any more. I think Corba will become irrelevant. The problem with EJB at the moment though is that it can only work with Java, whereas Corba is multilanguage, so in a way, they?re different beasts,? he said.
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