Sun executives will announce that the J2EE 1.4 specification supports the full Web services stack, but will not be available for deployment until the first quarter of 2003.
Added support for Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), and Web Services Description Language (WSDL) will round out J2EE's support for the set of de facto Web service standards. existing version already supports XML. "It fully and completely implements standards-based Web services," said George Grigoryev, senior product manager for J2EE at Sun.
Sun is also moving to accelerate developers' ability to build and deploy Web services using the J2EE 1.3 specification, with the availability this week of a second prerelease version of its Web services developer pack.
In addition, the company is merging its J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA), Java Messaging Server (JMS), and Entity Beans to help companies make legacy data available via the Web services model, executives report.
But Sun's position in the Web services race is not only drawing fire from Microsoft, it now places Java developers in a position of choosing which specification to adopt.
"[Until the release of J2EE 1.4] you have a situation where Java developers have to work in potentially non-standard ways to support Web services, which isn't necessarily terrible if you're working with one of the major vendors' tools suites such as IBM, Sun, or Oracle," said analyst Dwight Davis, vice-president at Summit Strategies.
"All [these vendors] support fairly automatic generation of compliant code," backing standards such as SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI, said Davis.
However, Microsoft has been quick to criticise Sun's efforts. "Fundamentally, the Web services support Sun is adding to J2EE is simply an example of too little, too late," said Tony Goodhew, product manager of the Microsoft .net framework.
"All of the major players in the J2EE space have already defined their ways of doing Web services and are off pushing their customers to go and use it, effectively locking Java developers into their plans," Goodhew said. "J2EE is simply yesterday's technology. The world has moved on to XML Web services. That's why we moved on to the .net framework."
Microsoft has had "an incredible amount of interest" from companies that are looking to replace their Java technology with .net, Goodhew added.
Java users are quick to point out that they can still develop Java-based Web services today without J2EE 1.4. Platform vendors such as IBM enable developers to incorporate all the emerging Web services standards into existing tool sets.
IBM is not alone in moving ahead with enabling developers to build Java-based Web services without J2EE 1.4 support. For example, Dublin-based Iona Technologies will unveil at JavaOne Web services integration features throughout its Orbix E2A product set.
"We're bringing to market early some of the functionality," said Simon Pepper, product director at Iona and a member of the Java Community Process executive committee, which oversees the Java standards process.
For its part, HP intends to roll out J2EE 1.4 support over the course of this year to take advantage of standardised specifications describing Web services for Java, said Shaun Connolly, director of product management for the HP middleware division.
"What [Version 1.4] does is it provides a layer of consistency and simplifies how people are going to be interacting with Web services, so it nails down how Web services are built on top of the J2EE platform," Connolly said.
Meanwhile, Oracle continues its firm backing of Java. "Most people looking at Web services are looking at J2EE and not .net," said John Magee, senior director of Oracle9iAS product marketing. "The key point is [Java-based] Web services are for real business use as opposed to the consumer use Microsoft trots out now and then," he said.
Summit Strategies' Davis added: "The Web services you create should be able to interoperate with each other. The importance is the end result more than the process of how you achieved."