Some Users See Java on Back End, .Net on Front End

Mixed environment could prove useful for some large companies, analysts say

San Francisco

Daniel Jepp is a Java developer at a London-based investment bank. But in two weeks, he will be taking a course on Microsoft Corp.'s new .Net development environment.

Jepp, a speaker at last week's JavaOne conference here, said his company, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, is keen to use .Net on the front end of its applications and Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technologies on the back end.

While Dresdner's scenario didn't represent the norm among attendees randomly polled at the Java conference, signs are emerging that the firm's tactic may be explored by other large companies.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., said the notion cropped up frequently at his firm's recent application developer conference in London. Attendees said the chief reason they need .Net and J2EE to interoperate is to run .Net front ends against J2EE-based back ends, he said.

Giga analyst Randy Heffner said the fundamental shift paving the way for such interoperation is Web services. In the past, Microsoft and Java technologies could be made to work together through the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) or Remote Method Invocation (RMI), he said.


.Net vs. J2EE: An Informal Poll

Percentage of developers planning to use one environment or the other:

Only J2EE

Only .Net

Both J2EE and .Net (equal commitment)

Other (CORBA, proprietary, etc.)

Source: Giga Information Group Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; poll of 76 attendees at Giga application development conferences in London (Feb.) and Amelia Island, Fla. (March)


But since there was no built-in support for the technologies in products and no cross-platform agreement "among Microsoft and everybody else," the approach got pushed "to the realm of special tools," Heffner said. Now that Microsoft and Java vendors are building support for XML, the Simple Object Access Protocol and other Web services technologies into their products, the .Net/J2EE option may get considered, he said.

Gilpin said the approach can work well for companies that need a rich user experience on a Windows client, because ".Net has a real advantage in creating that." He said a company might do that in combination with a J2EE or J2EE/Web services back end "if they need the flexibility/portability or integration capabilities those J2EE products offer on the back end but can't suffice with the best, rich GUI that Java can offer."

The downsides of the approach—complexity and cost—make it worthwhile only if there's a great business need for a rich user experience, Gilpin said. For instance, a rich graphical user interface for a call center operator might save a company millions of dollars if the average service call is reduced by even three seconds, he said.

Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc., said he expects that companies will take the combination approach—a .Net front end and J2EE back end—to better utilize developers' skills. He said those trained in Java might work on back ends and those skilled in Microsoft's Visual Basic and Active Server Pages on front ends, since Microsoft's technology is currently better for building thin-client, browser-based applications that use dynamic HTML.

But if companies use the Microsoft user interface with Java business components, performance will probably suffer and the application will be harder to debug and maintain, Murphy cautioned.

Jepp said his company aims to use Microsoft's drag-and-drop tools to put together front ends very rapidly. He added that the bank probably wants to hedge its technology bets. "Nobody's sure exactly where this market is going to be in five years' time—Java or Microsoft. So I think they want a little bit of both," he said.

Large firms expect to use both Java and .Net, according to some polls, but the surveys typically don't distinguish between front- and back-end use.

One developer with a major pharmaceutical company, who asked not to be identified, said large companies have to watch for any technology that might be useful to guard against vendor lock-in. He said he has already been visited by two vendors promoting .Net and that he expects to evaluate it.

But David Eng, a software engineer at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., said his firm may be hesitant to use .Net because it is untested. "A lot of our projects are government, and [the technology] has to be reliable," he said.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon