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The Second Battle for the Desktop
The Second Battle for the Desktop

We often like to assume that most corporate IT organizations have kept somewhat up-to-date with all of the various technological innovations over the years, and have done so in an incremental manner. However, the reality of the situation is quite different. You may (or may not) be surprised by how many IT organizations do not necessarily ride the "bleeding edge" wave for one reason or another.

It's not that these IT shops have not paid attention to what is available to them. Now poised to leapfrog over a generation or two of architectural change, these companies are busy looking to overhaul their IT infrastructure and are in the midst of evaluating new architectural approaches. However, which architectural platform and standard should they choose?

For many, it comes down to a choice between two leading contenders - J2EE-based application server companies such as BEA, with their open-standards approach to enterprise computing; and the not-so-new kid on the block, Microsoft, with their .NET-powered line of server and development tools.

Prior to the dawn of Web services, it was a whole lot easier to differentiate between Java and Microsoft. At that time many considered the Java language and platform to be a solution to many problems, including software portability. The write once, distribute everywhere mantra led us to believe that it was the cure for all of our ills. Moreover, with the advent of browser-based applications, made possible by J2EE-based Web servers, our software distribution problems were finally over too. For once, it looked like there was an overall approach to solving a number of the problems that typically plague the application development life cycle.

Of course, technology never stands still and Microsoft did not sit on its hands during this period and watch J2EE take over the corporate enterprise standard. The result of their work culminated in what we know today as the .NET platform - a technology solution that to some mimics and improves on J2EE in a number of ways. All of a sudden, the choice is much more complex, and the differences between J2EE and .NET are not as obvious as before.

Now, we have to aim higher on the technology stack to see where the real differences exist. Since most J2EE platform vendors and Microsoft now provide a business process management engine (BEA WebLogic Integrator versus BizTalk for example), that doesn't work as a differentiator either. We need to look elsewhere. We need to look at how well each platform can integrate business process management (BPM) with human workflow activity.

In the not so distant future, corporations will be looking for new ways to merge automation and manual processes in a manner that is natural and familiar to the user, while at the same time being able to manage and update business processes in real time. Reminiscent of the heated battle over the Windows desktop a few years ago, the battle for corporate IT will again be fought at the desktop, but this time we will be talking about workflow productivity tools versus advertising space, and how well a particular BPM solution can seamlessly integrate customer and employee into a cohesive whole.

BEA has taken the lead in this space by being the first to come out with an integrated development environment, centered on BEA WebLogic Workshop, that allows you to easily interface business process orchestration and portal management while providing the necessary Java-based APIs to glue it all together. This is essentially what BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1 is all about, and where the battle lines will be drawn for BEA WebLogic Server 9.0 and beyond.

About Joe Mitchko
Joe Mitchko is the editor-in-chief of WLDJ and a senior technical specialist for a leading consulting services company.

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