Business software vendor SAP has announced it intends to use Internet technologies, such as Java and Extensible Markup Language (XML), to build future versions of its applications.
According to Peter Graf, SAP's director of technology marketing, the company plans to start writing new enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications in Java as well as in its own development language, ABAP Objects.
SAP has already begun offering Java clients for Web access, but the new effort will be to write the server-side applications in Java, according to Graf. All of SAP's proprietary Business APIs will be made available in Java.
However, this dual development effort will take at least 12 months to get off the ground, so the first all-Java applications shouldn't be expected until at least 2000.
"This is a statement of (our) strategic direction," Graf said. "In the long term, we want to give people an option to use Java as an alternative to ABAP Objects."
XML will also get more support from the German software giant. XML can "tag" words and numbers with such attributes as "price", "product", and "customer".
The timing of the Java announcement supports SAP's reputation as cautious and methodical in pursuing goals, observers said.
Supporting Java and XML are "must-dos" for any applications company, said Steve Tirone, a senior analyst at AMR Research.
"At SAP, they're not driven by fads. Once they decide something is real, they're able to throw more R&D personnel into that project than most companies can command altogether," Tirone said.
Server-side Java applications could be a mixed blessing, said Thomas Yates, a senior SAP Basis architect with Digital operations, now Compaq, in New Jersey.
Yates oversees Digital's SAP implementation and those of Compaq customers who run SAP.
"It's actually very good news because it begins to remove the proprietary implementation obstacle from SAP," Yates said. "But in a certain respect it's a disadvantage. Java's wonderful but there's a war going on," over who will control its standards, as seen in the current Sun/Microsoft lawsuit, he said.
The likely result, splitting Java into different varieties like Unix now, could water down Java's "write once, run anywhere" appeal, Yates said. Moreover, as an interpreted language, Java is relatively slow, Yates explained.
And so is SAP, Yates added. The Java applications' post-1999 availability "strikes me as very late", Yates said. "If they were doing it now it would be a blockbuster."