Ask Jeet Kaul, vice president of Java development at Sun Microsystems Inc., about the adoption of the Java EE 5 since JavaOne in May and from the developer viewpoint he is very enthusiastic.
"Based on the information we have right now," he said, "Java EE 5 adoption has been better than any other with the exception of the first EE release." He said market survey data he has seen indicates an uptick in interest in the platform by developers in North America and an even larger increase in the Asia Pacific region.
"What you're seeing is developers say they want EE 5 now," he said. "I believe the developer acceptance has been phenomenally high."
But where are the application servers for those developers?
Here Kaul, while maintaining his overall enthusiasm, said: "The vendors' story is a mixed bag. As you would expect, it's hard to build application servers, and rev the new ones and worry about your cycles."
Reviewing the status of vendor application server support, he points out that there are currently three that developers can go into production with today: Sun, of course, followed by SAP AG and a South Korean vendor called Tmax Soft Inc.
"Tmax Soft is the largest Java EE vendor in Korea," Kaul explained. "They're targeted at one market. But they are predominant in Korea."
Beyond those already offering production servers, JBoss, now a division of Red Hat Inc., and BEA Systems Inc. are moving into beta with servers that will support Java EE 5 and plan to have their products generally available by the first half of the year. Oracle Corp. and IBM said they would support Java EE 5, but have yet to announce products. But Kaul said Oracle, which donated the code to Glassfish for open source EE 5 EJB persistence, is "also very close" to announcing a product.
An Oracle spokeperson said full support for Java EE 5.0 is planned "for the next major release cycle of Oracle Application Server," but no specific launch date was given. The current production release of Oracle Application Server 10g does include a preview of "significant portions of Java EE 5, including EJB 3.0.
IBM announced an incremental approach to upgrading WebSphere Application Server with the release this summer of a feature pack for developing Web services on the Java EE 5 platform. The IBM approach will allow cutting edge developers, who are interested in working with Java EE 5 to get started, while allowing others to continue to work with the technology with which they are familiar, Mark Heid, program director for IBM WebSphere infrastructure, said at the time the service pack was announced.
That incremental strategy is similar to what JBoss calls its "Java EE a la carte" approach.
"We truly believe in our mantra, that we've had for three or four years, of Java EE a la carte," said Shaun Connolly, vice president of product management for JBoss.
While the JBoss Application Server 5.0, which will be Java EE 5 certified, is in beta now, with final release set for the first half of 2007, he said some of the functionality has already been incorporated into the current 4.0 version of the server.
"Over the course of 2006, we've rolled out Java EE 5 functionality on our JBoss Application Server 4.0 platform," Connolly said. "What we've done is taken some of the most important feature functions that have been targeted for our app server 5.0 release and rolled them out and made them useable for our customers on our app server 4.0 platform."
The JBoss executive said some of the a la carte items that had been added to the existing application server include the Java EE 5 platform's EJB 3.0 capabilities, JavaServer Faces and Web services annotation capabilities.
"Those are features where we've had multiple releases and multiple iterations for our application server 4 today," Connolly said.
However, he said, even when the JBoss Application Server 5.0 with Java EE 5 certification is ready for production, the a la carte mantra will continue to be chanted at his company.
"From JBoss' standpoint we're still not satisfied with the simplicity of the EE platform," he said. Connolly said the company will work with the Java Community Process to improve the simplicity of the Java EE platform. But in the meantime, JBoss implementations of it will allow developers to pick and chose which Java EE 5 functionality they want to use.
"For users who want to deploy some of the capabilities or just a subset, such as interoperability features, they should have the capability to fine tune their footprint and make sure they only use the computing resources that are required from a lighter weight platform," Connolly said.
While JBoss touts the programming flexibility as the value it adds to Java EE 5, SAP, the first major vendor besides Sun to release a production server that supports the platform, points to the business services it adds in its implementation.
"What we add on top of the technology platform is our business content," said Michael Bechauf, vice president of industry standards at SAP. "Our business process platform ships with hundreds of services that are out of the box. So our customers can deploy more quickly. It isn't so much that we add the latest and greatest technology innovation. I think our customers want stability there. What our customers do want to see is that the line of business SOA architects can really exploit the promises of SOA for things like the business flexibility. That's where we are offering ready-made services that we have developed as part of our various user communities."
While Java EE 5 may be a big deal to architects and developers, it may be a non-issue to business executives who sign the checks to buy application servers supporting it, said Aiaz Kazi, vice president for solution marketing and platform ecosystem at SAP. He said at least some customers don't care about the platform and are focused exclusively on the business applications that can be developed.
"There are customers who don't care," Kazi said. "They want to do composition. They want to compose new applications. They don't really care about the platform as long as they have a trusted provider." One of the values SAP offers its customer is that it is a "trusted provider" able to assure buyers that the platform, in this case Java EE 5, is stable and reliable, and that they can quickly build Web services and SOA business applications on it, he said.
Even for customers who may be following the progress of Java EE 5, SAP's trusted provider status is important, he said.
"Others are coming to us saying specifically that they know Java EE 5 is out," Kazi said. "They ask us: 'What do you guys think about it?' They're looking to see whether they should adopt it. We play the role of trusted advisor. They're looking for us to mitigate what from the customer's point of view are two risks: what are the technology risks of bringing in a new environment and what is the maturity of the environment. They ask if it has matured to the point where they can use it. Is it useful enough?"
From SAP's point of view the answer is yes.
BEA Systems Inc. which will have a preview release of its integration of Java EE 5 into its WebLogic Server available later this month, also emphasizes that it provides a security blanket for customers that will be able to deploy on it in the first half of 2007.
"With WebLogic Server, it's all the things we put around Java EE 5," said Blake Connell, director of product marketing for BEA WebLogic Server. "We continue to upgrade clustering and failover and high availability. Our value-add is not just implementing the specifications, but making them enterprise-grade."
Along with the spokespeople for SAP and JBoss, BEA's Connell sees the functionality of EJB 3.0 as one of the key reasons for adopting Java EE 5. BEA may take some pride in ownership here.
"We contributed quite a bit to EJB 3.0 itself," Connell said.
SAP, JBoss and BEA all see interoperability, including the ability to bring Microsoft applications into the SOA development picture, as a key advantage of Java EE 5.
"The adoption from developers looks to be pretty strong with Java EE 5," said Connell. "We think there will be a pretty good pick up of people wanting to deploy it into production, not only for the EJB 3.0 capabilities, but because it offers a lot of Web services functionality. There are interoperability features including interoperability with Microsoft Indigo, which they are now calling Windows Communications Framework."
Meanwhile, back at Sun, Kaul said work has already begun on the next version of Java EE.
"We've already started thinking about what are the next things that the platform needs," he said. "We've already started working on the next generation of the platform."