The Web Services Dilemma: .NET or Java 2?

With the release of Microsoft's Visual Studio.NET, the competing .NET and Java 2 platforms each present challenges and charms for IT decision-makers now picking a Web services strategy.
Microsoft took a giant step in the Web services race Wednesday with the release of its Visual Studio.NET tools for developers.

The launch, according to analysts and other industry observers, signals the production-readiness of Microsoft's vaunted .NET platform, and it arms millions of Web programmers with advanced tools to build Web services.

For CIOs and other IT decision-makers, the issue of Web services has moved well beyond whether or not they should launch a Web services strategy. It's generally agreed that Web services --business applications built to interact with other applications, both in-house and with outside partners-- offer irresistible cost savings, streamlined business processes and enhanced revenue opportunities.

Now, the question for IT pros revolves around which platform to build on: Microsoft's proprietary .NET, which supports Windows applications, or the Java 2 platform, based on the Java programming language backed by Sun and others, and which runs on multiple operating systems and hardware.

Both options present different upsides and challenges to IT pros, according to Frank Gillett, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

He says, "Visual Studio.NET represents a great tool for developers in general and Web services in particular." But the new technology comes with a price. With VS.NET, Microsoft requires that Visual Basic developers work in an object-oriented environment to take advantage of the technology's features. Gillett says IT departments will have to invest in costly training for existing developers to use Visual Studio's new object oriented capabilities, and they will have to hire skilled object-oriented architects.

"Everyone who is a Microsoft shop and has Visual Basic developers needs to upgrade those developers," to take advantage of the full capabilities offered with VS.Net, he says.

On this point, because the leap to .NET is similarly challenging as migrating to the Java 2 platform, Gillett says there may be an opportunity for IT organizations to shift to the Java 2 platform.

How fast companies adopt either remains to be seen, as there are other factors influencing decision-makers. Among them, whether IT execs want developers to build Web services based on the technology of a proprietary, "single-source" vendor (Microsoft) or on a platform that operates on heterogeneous systems, the Java 2 platform. The Java platform is backed by Sun, BEA Systems and others.

"Yes, you do have to make a commitment," says Gillett, "so you choose a sole-source provider if you want pre-integrated solutions (or) the Java 2 platform if you want a multi-vendor solution and not a single-source provider. The downside (with Java 2) is, you have to do the integration (yourself.)"

He adds: "A lot of (IT decision-makers) aren't comfortable with Microsoft as a sole-source provider."

Either way, he says, now is the time for IT organizations and their leaders to be focusing on a Web services strategy if they want to reap the benefits.

"We're telling (IT execs), despite the nature of Web services technology, you should get going now to capture the business advantage and get on the learning curve for Web services," Gillett says.

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