Not perfect, but operating very successfully

Since its introduction in 1995, the Java Community Process (JCP) has fostered the evolution of the Java platform in cooperation with the international Java developer community. It has evolved from the informal process that Sun used to a formalized process overseen by representatives from many groups across the Java community. There are more than 500 companies and individuals participating, including industry leaders BEA Systems, Cisco Systems, IBM, Oracle, SAP and Sony, as well as Apache Software Foundation representing the Open Source community. Onno Kluyt, director of the JCP Program Office at Sun Microsystems, said JCP continues to evolve, similar to the way software evolves, by planning product releases and determining how much change the market can bear. He said the ability for open source developers to implement Java standards was one of the key changes highlighted during last October’s JCP 2.5 launch. “We made certain changes to allow and encourage that,” he said. “And we are seeing more compatible implementations from those kinds of organizations.”
One of the members, SAP looks at its involvement with technology standards, such as the JCP, as contributing to the company’s ability to provide customers with business-driven insights about technology, with total cost of ownership (TCO) as one of the top-priority items. Michael Bechauf, SAP vice president of Java architecture and standards, talked about the history of events that led to SAP signing on as a member of the J2SE/J2EE (Java 2 Standard Edition/Java 2 Enterprise Edition) Executive Committee. The Executive Committee, which is the group of members that guides the evolution of Java technology in the JCP, is responsible for approving specifications and for reconciling discrepancies between specifications and their associated test suites.

Adopting a new collaboration model

SAP has been involved in Java since it was invented in 1995 and had a Java-based front-end that allowed to run all SAP applications as early as 1997. The company has always been committed to providing its application on all major operating systems and databases, and so Java’s ‘write once, run everywhere’ approach is very appealing for SAP. According to Bechauf, “Java’s success has been remarkable – what started as a little wave in form of small Applets running inside a HTML-based browser had turned into a Tsunami that has swept through the entire industry.” However, he emphasizes that “Java was not only a new technology that had arrived. Java also led the industry to adopt a new collaboration model in that vendors jointly define commonly agreed standards how to build and deploy applications. Java standards require a full commitment to open systems by coding against commonly agreed upon Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).”
Bechauf said, SAP customers strongly support the company’s involvement in Java standards activities and clearly ask for the company’s commitment to open systems in terms of the way applications are built, deployed, supported and upgraded. “This commitment requires SAP to implement commonly agreed best practices in the industry,” he said, “but as part of our role as trusted advisor our customers also demand that we drive standards and contribute with our experience for the betterment of the whole industry. SAP cannot be merely a passive observer of industry standards, but must actively contribute to set the agenda. ” SAP took this very seriously and became a member of the JCP in 2001.

Application development productivity of particular importance for SAP

Today the company contributes to over 40 Java Specification Requests (JSRs) in areas as diverse as Web Services, Business Process Management, Portals, Content Management, Java Connectors, XML, Persistence and Java Virtual Machine Management. Bechauf said SAP engages in active and permanent collaboration with the respected industry leaders who are assembled in the JCP Executive Committee in order to convey SAP’s suggestions and concerns, as well as to discuss process improvements of the JCP. Application development productivity in J2EE is of particular importance for SAP, he said, adding that SAP believes that Java developers need to care too much about systems-level details that distract them from the actual business problem.
With SAP’s focus on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), interoperability, supportability and manageability of Java systems is also high on SAP’s agenda. “We feel that by contributing to a number of key initiatives, we can significantly contribute to the overall betterment of the Java platform,” Bechauf said. Still, he pointed out there are shortcomings and in order to be able to ship SAP systems based on J2EE today, it is necessary to build certain extensions to the J2EE platform. “Whenever doing this, we make sure that we design these extensions so they comply with existing standards,” he said. “SAP is also committed to standardize these extensions through the JCP, so that SAP customers have the guarantee that their application systems are built, deployed and supported using the latest industry-wide standards”.

Tools for J2EE Software Lifecycle Management and team-based development

For example, SAP will introduce sophisticated tools for J2EE Software Lifecycle Management and team-based development in its products which it plans to standardize through the JCP later this year. Furthermore, Bechauf said SAP is instrumental in defining an Enterprise Services Architecture that will turn Web Services into true value for customers. As of today, Web Services are not a solution but an enabling technology. Just as the Internet allowed applications to grow into new areas, Web Services will drive applications to support new types of businesses. “We believe that future applications will be more service-oriented based on open standards,” he said. “Applications in the future will support cross functional business processes and so our participation in Web Services standards is very important for the company”.
Forrester Research analyst Randy Heffner said the JCP is unique among standards bodies in that it requires a reference implementation and compatibility test kit. “This provides a degree of consistency for Java implementations that is very good,” he said. “The JCP is a strong mix of community involvement and vendor incentives.” Still Heffner maintained one of the most misunderstood things about the JCP is that Sun does not control the JCP and Sun does not own all Java technology. He said for example if Sun wanted to implement real time Java, it would have to license it from TimeSys. “This is because TimeSys was the “spec lead” for real time Java.”

One major weakness

Heffner warned the JCP suffers from one major weakness, there is no “chief architect” for Java who can bring all of the various initiatives together under a single unified direction. “Many complain that there is simply too much work being done within the JCP and it gets too confusing,” he said. Tackling the work within the JCP, such powerful competitors as BEA Systems, IBM and Oracle have been contributing code and other development resources. Edward Cobb, vice president, architecture & standards, who represents BEA Systems, as a member of the JCP Executive Committee, said BEA has long been committed to driving and deploying Java standards and has successfully done so more rapidly than other companies because of its participation in the JCP. “BEA is one the most committed in the industry in terms of supporting Java and driving Java standards,” Cobb said, noting that the majority of the company’s revenue comes from product offerings based on the Java standards.
BEA serves on the J2SE/J2EE Executive Committee, along with companies such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, Oracle and SAP. BEA also serves on the J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) Executive Committee with companies that include Nokia and Palm. “Standards are important to BEA because they’re important to our customers. They demand industry standards and we believe our participation helps to grow the market,” Cobb said. BEA currently leads between 3-5 JSRs and also participates in more than 20 JSR Expert Groups, ranging from Application Development to Core XML technology and the J2EE platform.

On-going discussions about the evolution

Cobb said there are on-going discussions in the JCP about the evolution of the process used to produce Java standards. There are a number of milestones that a JSR goes through, such as specification, reference implementation and test suites, before a new Java standard emerges. “Although you’re not allowed to ship new Java standards before they are approved and complete, every company is anxious to get the product to market as quickly as possible in order to be competitive”, Cobb said. Mark Thomas, Program Director, Java Technology, IBM e-business Integration Technologies, who represents IBM on the JCP J2SE/J2EE Executive Committee takes the need for change a step further. He is proposing stronger links with standards groups working outside the Java Community Process and more influence for community members in the governance of the process.
Thomas explains that IBM’s customers are strongly focused on implementing emerging standards such as XML and Web Services. “In order to be effective, these standards require strong collaboration between software providers and in support of this we have played a leading role in driving the adoption of these technologies by the Java Community,” he said. Thomas mentioned IBM provided the Specification Lead for Java Specification Request 109 “Implementing Enterprise Web Services” and has also been specification lead for JSRs 104 (XML Trust Service) and JSR 106 (XML Digital Encryption). IBM participates in over 100 other JSRs and provides the Specification Leads for 20 of them, according to Thomas. “
IBM is a strong advocate for the continuing development of an open and constraint-free culture within the community that encourages cross-company collaboration and eschews undue influence by any one company, or group of companies,” he said. IBM also had a key role in the development of the most recent updates to the JCP and, Thomas said: “We continue to seek improvements towards including even more open standards and a greater community perspective in the future evolution of the Java language and technologies.” Thomas emphasized the more that Java technology is associated with a coordinated, strong, industry-wide effort rather a single company, “the faster we’ll see Java technologies being adopted by enterprises that require industrial strength programming environments that work across many computing platforms.”

The process is not perfect, but it is operating very successfully

Forrester’s Heffner emphasized that a while back, Microsoft was deriding Sun for not releasing Java to a standards body. “Microsoft claimed that it had released C# and .NET to a standards body,” he said. “It is important to note that Microsoft submitted less than 10 per cent of the .NET Framework for standardization, so .NET has `no claim´ to being standard, although Java clearly does. Vendors have the incentive to sponsor new work through the JCP,” Heffner said. “The process is not perfect, but it is operating very successfully to develop Java technology along a number of fronts.”

Barbara Gengler