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J2EE's destiny: Commoditization

A Burton Group report identifies several factors, including open source, that will lead to the ultimate commoditization of the J2EE platform.

Open source Java providers like JBoss Inc., ObjectWeb Consortium, OpenEJB Group and the Apache Geronimo project are likely to commoditize the Java 2 platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) much in the same way Apache did with Web servers.


So is even J2EE going to be a Linux-Microsoft battleground?
Burton Group senior analyst Richard Monson-Haefel didn't say anything quite that dramatic, but he did cite the Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Python/Perl combination, also known as LAMP, as a viable alternative platform for hosting certain technologies like Web applications with content aggregation and text manipulation.
The analyst, a former member of the Java Community Process executive committee, also noted that other open source projects like Tomcat, Spring, Hibernate and Struts are similar to J2EE and enterprises could consider them to be "good enough" alternatives.
"The open source products are easier for developers to learn and use and therefore are more productive within a narrower space," he wrote in his report.
"It is difficult to determine which of these potentially disruptive technologies is most likely to unseat J2EE," he said. "The most likely scenario is that some combination of them will become a market leader (for example, Tomcat used with Spring and Hibernate). Struts is already a de facto standard for Web development in many organizations."

That's the conclusion reached in a recent report by Java author and expert Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst with the Burton Group.

In the end, the analyst believes vendors will no longer invest resources in advancing J2EE. Instead they will put their R&D dollars in technology further up the stack, like integration brokers and enterprise service buses, leaving J2EE maintenance and innovation to the open source community.

"J2EE is not the litmus test for whether a vendor should be considered or not," Monson-Haefel said. "It used to be because companies could make money. They no longer can do that. It's like when Web servers came out, Apache consumed and commoditized that market. What vendors will do is support the standard as a marketing advantage, but defer to open source to develop [J2EE]."

JBoss has gone to great lengths lately, trying to market itself as a leading open source provider of Java. The Atlanta-based company's JBoss application server is a popular product, and Sun recently awarded the company with J2EE compliance.

And while J2EE hasn't reach commodity levels yet, Monson-Haefel said JBoss' J2EE compliance could be the "final nail in the coffin."

"[JBoss] can say 'Hey, we passed the 23,000 tests the other vendors have [to earn compliance],' " Monson-Haefel said. "For those who want to do J2EE application development, you're not going to find something cheaper than a free offering."

JBoss is available under the LGPL (Lesser GNU General Public License) where it provides its Java app server, for example, as a free download. It also sells support for its products. The LGPL allows companies to use an open source product as part of their own offering, as well as copy and distribute it without having to pay royalties. Internal changes to the open source product also do not have to be shared with the open source community under the LGPL, unlike the GPL. The only exception is if those changes are distributed.

"Open source (J2EE) as a baseline will survive. It's up to vendors to pick the open source project that best matches their customer community and help it with resources," Monson-Haefel said. "The only way J2EE will survive [as a standard], is for vendors to rally around it as a baseline."

J2EE products are already feeling competitive pressures from Microsoft's .NET development platform. .NET offers many of the same functionality and features as J2EE, but in the end, enterprises want what's less expensive and what's easier to work with. Monson-Haefel said .NET makes convincing arguments on both ends.

"If vendors allow J2EE to wither on the vine, customers will have to choose between proprietary platforms," Monson-Haefel said. "I think you'll see significant share go to .NET."

If .NET is a viable alternative for an enterprise, Monson-Haefel recommends it only be done for new applications.

"Switching existing applications to .NET is not recommended. The adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' is prudent advice," he said in the report. "That said, caution should be used if the bulk of an organization's developers are deeply knowledgeable about Java and J2EE, but have not had experience in .NET technologies."

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