XML Rich Client Technology Strengthens Java

Which platform to use, Java or .Net? This is one of the most frequently asked questions by developers today. Java has been widely adopted because of its overwhelming benefits on the server side in comparison with .Net. However, Java has less to offer on the client side, while .Net has made inroads into the enterprise by leveraging its stronger rich-client capabilities. An alternative solution for enterprise-scale, Internet application development is the emerging XML-based rich-client technology.

.Net Erosion From the Client Side

There are strong reasons why Java is the platform of choice for server-side computing. Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) is an open-standards-based platform that enables open integration. Java enjoys broad industry support, ranging from vendors such as IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp. to upstarts like Nexaweb Technologies Inc. and Sonic Software Corp. J2EE is cross-platform, giving customers the freedom to deploy into different environments. J2EE has proven enterprise strength. By comparison, .Net has obvious limitations — it's restricted to Windows deployment, is a single-vendor product and lacks industry support from other vendors to meet enterprise requirements.

On the other hand, .Net has stronger client-side capabilities than Java. Java Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) is based on architecture that offers limited out-of-box capability. Java Swing offers better out-of-box functionality but is complex and difficult to use. It's possible to develop Java applications with a rich look and feel using AWT or Swing, but complexity and developer skill requirements are high. In contrast, the barriers to developing strong .Net client applications are lower. Typical corporate developers can easily develop sophisticated Visual Basic .Net desktop applications with a professional look and feel.

Another option is to develop a thin-client application using HTML. HTML applications are "zero install" thin-client applications, while both Java and .Net client applications have a heavy client-side footprint and require a significant download. In addition to solving network bandwidth problems, zero-install translates directly to lower maintenance and support costs. The skill-set requirement and complexity of HTML is much lower than both .Net and Java. Unfortunately, HTML isn't suitable for handling the level of complexity, scale and time sensitivity required by enterprise applications. For applications with nonlinear workflow, complex integration, large data sets or time criticality, Java or .Net rich clients have been the only viable options.

Most business applications are user-oriented. Client-side issues such as look and feel, richness and performance directly affect business-user productivity. As a result, client-side choice can influence server-side architecture decisions. Because Java doesn't have a compelling solution on the client side, many applications are written using .Net. Eventually, this could lead to a greater adoption of .Net for easier integration and management, eventually eroding J2EE's market share.

XML Rich Client

Now there is an alternative. XML rich-client technology serves rich-client applications on demand by using XML from J2EE or service-oriented architecture environments. Using XML rich-client technology, J2EE can deliver enterprise Java applications with higher performance than .Net — not only is it visually and functionally richer, but it's also easier to deploy and maintain, with a thinner footprint, faster performance, greater scalability and lower complexity.

The Benefits of XML Rich-Client Technology

  • The Future is XML

    The rapid adoption of XML for server-side computing makes XML a natural candidate for client-side computing. Even Microsoft Corp. has made a commitment to this trend. Its next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn, will support XML for Windows desktop applications.

  • XML Rich-Client Technology Significantly Lowers Application Complexity and Skill-Set Requirements

    One benefit of XML rich-client technology is that it enables enterprise-class Internet applications while lowering development/maintenance complexity. XML rich-client technology uses the power of XML, which is more efficient and extensible than procedural programming languages such as Java, C#, C++ or JavaScript. Code created in XML is simpler, takes up fewer lines and is much easier to read and process. Someone with HTML skills can easily understand the code, while C# code and Java Swing code require intimate knowledge of object-oriented programming.

    Sample J2EE/XML rich-client Web applications that are indistinguishable from the best client/server applications. On the left, a Web application runs inside a Mozilla browser with the same richness as Windows desktop applications. On the right, a customer service application runs on a PDA device.

  • XML Rich-Client Technology Enables Richer, Thinner, Faster Applications

    Enterprise Internet applications built using XML rich-client technology can be normal J2EE Web applications that send XML to the client side instead of HTML. However, because of XML rich-client technology, they are richer, faster and consume up to 90% less bandwidth. No client installation is required. These applications can run instantly on different browsers and handheld devices with the same functionality as Windows desktop applications, with user-interface elements such as multiple windows, menu bars, tool bars and hierarchical trees.

    For example, an enterprise management "dashboard" application built with XML rich-client technology can use sliding tabs to display tabular data as well as rich graphics and interactive charts, all updated in real time via server push without the clunky "click refresh" associated with normal HTML applications.

    Applications of this nature are usually built using .Net or Win32, requiring heavy download/installation. Using XML rich-client technology, they are lightweight, zero-install Web applications with lower bandwidth consumption and better performance.

  • XML Rich-Client Technology Seamlessly Extends J2EE

    With XML rich-client technology, developers can still use Java Server Pages, tag libraries, Servlet, Struts and other approaches for server-side presentation, Enterprise JavaBeans for server-side business logic and any persistency layer for data storage. The application is deployed as a normal WAR/EAR archive file and managed as a normal Web application.


Combining XML rich-client technology with J2EE provides the following benefits in comparison with .Net:

  • Enterprise-scale rich-client capability and complex workflow, scalable for large data sets and high transaction rates such as hundreds of messages per second.

  • Zero-install capability with deployment/management advantages similar to HTML. While .Net applications can only be deployed to Windows XP desktops, XML rich-client applications can be deployed hassle-free to over 95% of all desktops with any 4.0+ browser.

  • ram_fig2.gif
    An enterprise management J2EE Web application that uses XML-based rich client technology to achieve the same richness and functionality as heavy client/server applications. XML data is presented as trees, tables and rich graphics in real-time without sending static "GIF" images on the client-side.

  • XML rich-client technology working with J2EE gives Web applications the "out-of-box" capability to seamlessly enable server push, reliable messaging, publishing/subscription, broadcasting and guaranteed order delivery. Built-in compression, incremental update and distributed state management minimize network traffic and increase performance.

Using XML rich-client technology, companies can develop enterprise Internet applications that match desktop quality with higher performance and still enjoy a J2EE server infrastructure: centrally managed and deployed, automatically updated, bandwidth and network efficient, with enterprise-level J2EE security, scaling and broad industry support.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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