A market for third-party Java software components finally seems ready to ripen, promising Web commerce developers a rich harvest of reusable code.l The market is materialising as several influences converge;l Java has reached a milestone in maturity with the release of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE);l Corporate developers are under growing pressure to deploy Java-based Web commerce systems quickly; andl Online component marketplaces have sprung up, maintaining a burgeoning inventory of components, such as Enterprise JavaBeans and Java applets.
These marketplaces let corporate developers buy and download components via the Net.
"We have a mature object-oriented language for components, and ways to develop them, distribute and integrate them," says Tracy Corbo, senior analyst with Hurwitz Group, a US-based technology consulting company. "And people want to develop this way; they either don't want - or don't have the resources - to write all their own code."Getting software built faster, and saving time and money in development, are the main reasons for buying ready-to-use components. For these reasons, there has long been a strong market for Microsoft's Visual Basic Controls, and more recently for ActiveX Controls and Component Object Model objects. The same is starting to happen with Java.
"When you want to build an e-business application, you can plug together Java components that someone else has written for an online shopping cart, a catalogue, credit card authorisation and for e-mailing receipts," said Sam Patterson, CEO of US-based online component marketplace ComponentSource.com.
"You've now built maybe 90 per cent of your application and spent $10,000 to $15,000 on software components. That's not even one month of a developer's salary."At ComponentSource, top-selling Java software includes InstallAnywhere for deploying Java programs, a set of Java-Beans for creating user interfaces called JFCSuite, and JClass Chart, which lets users create sophisticated graphs and charts.
In recent months, the marketplace sites have been adding an array of free and pay services for enterprise customers. Buyers can put out a "request for components", inviting registered developers to bid for custom software work.
Testing services are being added and expanded, so the marketplace sites can certify parts of a component's operation and some level of compatibility with Java APIs and with each other.
ComponentSource has created an escrow service where it stores source code in case the component supplier goes out of business.
Rival site Flashline.com recently released Component Manager, a Java program that plugs in to the Web browser interface of any Java development tool set, such as Symantec's VisualCafe. It links users of a given tool, and their components, with an array of Web-based Java resources, including those on the Flashline Web site. Component Manager is free and downloadable from www.flashline.com.
The plug-in uses XML to let developers, from within VisualCafe for example, view all components on local hard drives and search the full set of Java Development Kit documentation. They can also view Java code, usage examples, updated APIs, tutorials, forums and other online resources, all of which Flashline has packaged to be visible and accessible through the plug-in.
"We want to create an online service that changes the way software development is done," said Charles Stack, CEO of US-based Flashline. "Originally it was a craft, like piecework. Over time it became an engineering discipline. Now we're wrapping complexity in a simplified interface on a component."That approach is immensely appealing to corporate developers, ComponentSource's Patterson said. "Ninety per cent of our customers are enterprise users, the Fortune 100 to 500 companies," he said.
Stack and Patterson cite almost unbelievable sales projections by market researchers. ComponentSource uses reserach company Ovum's projection of a $US64 billion components market in 2002, although that includes tools and services.
IDC forecasts nearly $2 billion in 2002 for a more narrowly defined software components market.
Despite the forecasts, the Java components market is still in its infancy.
"Java is just starting to grow in the open [components] market," Patterson said. "But the [collection of Java APIs, services and Java Virtual Machines] is stable, and good tools are widely available. And our sales are now doubling each month."BEA Systems sells a Java application server and a set of e-commerce components through Flashline.
"We wanted maximum exposure to the developer community, and Flashline was focused on that same group," says Doug Wood, BEA's director of strategic alliances. "I can't tell you the absolute numbers we've sold through them, but we get over 400 [prospects] from them per week."Wood credits Sun Microsystems, Java's creator, with making this market possible.
"They defined the standard APIs for J2EE and said, No, you can't tinker with them and [try to] make them better,'" he said. "GartnerGroup said the Java Virtual Machine will penetrate 90 per cent of all desktops and servers by the end of this year. As a result of this standard, Java code today can be reused."Buyer bewareBut "buyer beware" remains good advice. "We have bought components but only with the following criteria," says Rick Bullotta, chief technology officer with US-based Lighthammer Software Development, a Java software company. "One, we can obtain a source-code licence with no strings attached. And two, there are no hidden deployment or licence fees."Component-testing services from marketplace sites are important new protections, but Bullotta says buyers still have to do their homework and be prepared to handle problems.
"The reality is that many times, the user becomes the first line of interoperability quality assurance because the supplier can't possibly have tested for every possible combination and interdependency," he said. "It's not a pretty sight when things don't work and the finger-pointing begins."