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What you need to know about Sun's Web services roadmap

This column looks at Sun's plans and architecture, and how they have fallen short in communicating their Web services vision.

The Web Services Advisor
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What you need to know about Sun's Web services roadmap
When it comes to Web services, you're in one of two camps - either Microsoft's or Sun's. Last month, we took a look at the Microsoft's .NET-centric view, and in this column we begin a two-piece look at Sun's vision for Web services. We'll start off by looking at Sun's plans and architecture, and in the next column we'll explore the many ways in which Microsoft and Sun are at war over the future of Web services standards.

If you're like many people, what you know about Sun's Web services plans can probably be summed up in a single word: Java. In Sun's architecture, Web services are written as Java applications and then deployed on an application server and delivered and consumed via the various Web services protocols.

The reason that's all you probably know about Sun's Web services plans is that aside from Java, the company has been late to the game, and has done a fairly dismal job of laying out its Web services roadmap. In fact, a year ago, Gina Centoni who was then senior director of marketing for Sun ONE, the core of Sun's Web services strategy, admitted to CNet, "We haven't been doing the best of jobs packaging the story, telling businesses how to take the different bits of Sun software and build them into Web services." (Centoni has since left Sun, and now works as vice president of developer marketing for OpenWave.) In the last year not a whole lot has changed. Sun still leaves many people confused when it comes to explaining its overall strategy.

The Sun ONE Platform
But Sun does have a Web services strategy, and it has recently coalesced around the Sun ONE platform, which Sun created by cobbling together a variety of technologies and hardware and software platforms. Here are the pieces:

  • Java This is Sun's core piece of technology, and Sun's promise about it remains the same: Write an application once, and have it run everywhere, as long as there is Java support in the operating system. Microsoft, of course, is trying to pull the plug on Java by taking away Java support from Windows, but it's not clear that strategy will work. The latest Java platform is J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition). Sun is betting that Java support will remain strong, and that JVMs (Java Virtual Machines) will be built into wireless devices, cell phones and PDAs as well as computers, so that Web services based on Java will be able to be easily ported to any device. Only time will tell whether the strategy eventually wins.
  • Sun ONE Studio (formerly Forte Tools) Sun ONE Studio 4 is an integrated development environment (IDE) for Java. It's based on the open source NetBeans Tools Platform, and comes in three flavors. The Enterprise Edition for Java is the one of most importance for Web services - it can be used to write and deploy J2EE applications to a variety of application servers, and can use SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI.
  • Sun ONE Middleware This was, until recently, known as the iPlanet line, and includes a wide variety of hardware and software platforms, including directory servers, identity servers, portal servers, integration servers, and others. For Web services, the most relevant is the Sun ONE Application Server. Sun is pushing it aggressively - in fact the Platform Edition is available without licensing fees. The Platform edition is targeted at smaller Web services deployments, while the Standard Edition and Enterprise edition are aimed at larger enterprises, and do carry fees.
  • Solaris Operating Environment Sun is billing this as more than just an operating system - it includes a variety of tools to enhance Web services, such as a variety of server software, and upcoming integration with Sun ONE middleware.

In theory, one should be able to mix and match different components of Sun's Web services technologies with hardware and software from other vendors. But in practice, you'll find it easier to go with complementary tools and technologies from Sun. For example, Sun ONE Studio includes hooks directly into Sun ONE Application Servers, so it may make the most sense to use them in concert rather than mixing and matching. (For information about the Sun ONE line, go to http://wwws.sun.com/software/sunone/.)

Will the sun rise?
Sun is at a crossroads when it comes to Web services. Its product line has only recently come together, and Sun has had its problems communicating its Web services vision in the past. Add that to its continuing battles with Microsoft (which we'll cover in the next column), and you get quite a bit of uncertainty.

There has been some recent good news and bad news for Sun. On the downside, according to the Giga Information Group, Sun lagged behind in sales of application server software in 2001, taking only seven percent of the market, compared to 34% each for IBM and BEA. But on the upside is the recent release of IBM's WebSphere Developer Kit, a Web service toolkit that encourages developers to use J2EE rather than .NET technologies.

The bottom line? Sun finally appears to have its product line and strategy clearly laid out. But it needs to more clearly communicate its roadmap to developers and to spend less time in public food fights with Microsoft. Maybe then it will be known more for its Web services platform, and less for being the anti-Microsoft.

About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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