Like an onion being peeled, the layers of Java APIs and specifications that Sun Microsystems has put forth during the past few years seems like an unending process that never reaches the core.
But by the end of this year - after dozens of development kits, virtual machine iterations, and enterprise server specifications - the Java definition process should be all but concluded with the delivery of Java2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE), in December, officials said.
"For the core technology, we'll be as complete as we need to be, with no gaping holes," said Gina Centoni, director of marketing for Java platform at Sun's Java Software division.
With J2EE, Sun is preparing a set of 15 extensions to Java that are designed to give tool, application, and application server vendors a common enterprise platform. If these J2EE-compliance testing products are used in concert, customers can focus on building applications, and advanced enterprise services should follow, Centoni said.
Built on a core of the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) specification, J2EE will consist of technical specifications, reference implementations of the specifications, a new application programming model, and a "how-to" book that explains how to use CORBA and Java to build enterprise systems. Filling out J2EE will be compliance testing, which requires that those who license J2EE from Sun meet the tests.
Compliance testing is crucial, said an executive at a Java application server maker who was concerned that compliance be verified and enforced.
Compatibility among Java implementations is also key to Java's competitive stance vis-a-vis Microsoft's Component Object Model+ (COM+), which boasts consistency, yet is limited to Windows. One analyst said Microsoft's COM+, slated to ship with Windows 2000 later this year, may offer a better enterprise platform than Java.
"COM+ is going to provide some real competition to the application server market because all of the services are provided as part of the operating system," said JP Morgenthal, president of US-based researcher NC.Focus.
Among the technical specifications slated for inclusion in J2EE are APIs for Java Server Pages and EJB, transaction monitoring, message queuing, e-mail, and connectors and modules to myriad data sources and types.
"What we're providing is a standard through Java for all of the plumbing," Centoni said, adding that Sun will work closely with the Object Management Group.
But one analyst said Java's ever-changing feature list may not be what prevents enterprises from widely adopting it.
"[Enterprises] need to feel comfortable that Java has a long-term life, that it scales, is reliable, and can be managed on a global basis," said Tim Sloane, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group.