Sun Microsystems is to incorporate a specification with the next version of its enterprise Java platform that is designed to ensure interoperability among Web services applications.
Version 1.4 of Sun's Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), which is due for release mid-year, will incorporate the Basic Profile specification developed by the Web Services Interoperability Organization. The WS-I is a multi-vendor group founded by IBM, BEA Systems, Microsoft and others to help define standards for the emerging Web services model.
The Basic Profile defines a standard method for employing a handful of technologies that have become central to web services. They include XML and Soap for messaging, Web Services Description Language for describing services, and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration for looking them up on a network.
Some developers have used those technologies already, but without the programming and data models laid out in the Basic Profile they have had no assurance that their applications will interoperate with those of other developers. Adding the Basic Profile to the next version of J2EE is intended to provide that assurance, said Sun group marketing manager Ralph Galantine.
Java licensees - including Sun, Oracle, IBM and BEA - are expected to release certified J2EE 1.4 products soon after the standard is finalised.
As a member of the WS-I, Microsoft is also expected to back the Basic Profile, in a rare example of co-operation between Microsoft and its rivals in the Java camp. A Microsoft spokeswoman noted that the specification has yet to be finalised, but said Microsoft wouldl support it in software products when it is completed. A draft of the WS-I Basic Profile was released in October, and at that time the group was shooting for completion early this year.
Microsoft has "a duty to its customers" to support the profile, said Ted Schadler, principal software analyst at Forrester Research. In theory, support from Microsoft should ensure that web services created using its .net platform will interoperate with web services created using Java.
The Web services model provides a way for linking different types of business applications together, either within an organisation or, it is hoped, among partners, suppliers and customers for streamlining commerce. More ambitiously, proponents say, web services can be used to "expose" business programs, such as a retirement plan application, as services that can be used by other companies.
After a year of steady hype, however, the model has taken off only gradually and in a limited way, analysts have said. Concerns have been raised about security, a lack of clearly defined standards and the sheer complexity of the development work involved. Adding the WS-I Basic Profile is intended to go some way towards meeting some of those concerns.
J2EE Version 1.4 is itself somewhat behind schedule. It was originally due in the second half of 2002, according to information on the web site of the Java Community Process, which steers development of new Java standards. The work needed to incorporate the Basic Profile is partly the reason that the specification will not be ready until mid-year, Galantine said.
The next step will likely be to issue a new draft of the J2EE 1.4 specification that includes the WS-I basic Profile.
"I don't have a date for that yet, but because we're doing [J2EE 1.4] in the summer it would need to be in the next few months," Galantine said.