Yet Another Muddled Message

This just recently crossed my Inbox, this time from Redmond Developer News, and once again I'm simply amazed at the audacity of the message and rather far-fetched conclusion:


On Tuesday, I wrote about BMC's new Application Problem Resolution System 7.0 tooling, which provides "black box" monitoring and analysis of application behavior to help improve troubleshooting.

In talking to BMC Director Ran Gishri, I ran across some interesting perspectives that he was able to offer on the enterprise development space. Among them, the fact that large orgs seem to be moving away from J2EE and toward a mix of .NET and sundry lightweight frameworks.

Richard Eaton, an RDN reader who's a manager of database systems for Georgia System Operations Corp., confirms Gishri's insights. He wrote:

"In 2003, we made a decision to build our Web application using Java and a third-party RAD tool for Java development that was locally supported at that time. Since then, the company that developed and supported that RAD tool has gone out of business and left us with virtually no support for the product. The application development that was done was very integrated into the tool, which meant we would virtually have to rewrite the entire app. So we analyzed our experience with using Apache, Linux, Java and Eclipse for our platform and realized the effort was very management-intensive for our small team, and so we looked to .NET.

"Considering the advances in the .NET framework and CLR libraries and the integration it offered to our other third-party tools, as well as our prolific Excel spreadsheet environment, the decision was easy to go to .NET. We are also moving away from Sybase databases to SQL Server and looking into the use of SharePoint for various internal collaboration and project functions. The one-stop shop of Microsoft technology and support and ease of development and integration, I think, is the overwhelming weight in deciding between J2EE and .NET."

First of all, I'm a little shocked that based on a conversation with one individual, we can safely infer that "large orgs" are "moving away from J2EE and toward a mix of .NET and sundry lightweight frameworks". This is fair and unbiased reporting? That's like going to Houston (home of our current sitting President), or Arizona (home of the Republican candidate), and discovering that a majority of the voters there will vote Republican in the next Presidential election. Amazing! Investigative journalism at its finest.

Of course, no report like this could be taken seriously without some kind of personal anecdotal evidence as backup, so next we have a heart-rendering tear-jerker of a story in which a poor company was taken for a ride by those big bad J2EE vendors.... "We made a decision to build our Web applciation using java and a third-party RAD tool for Java... Since then, the company that [built] that RAD tool has gone out of business and left us [screwed]." Uh... wait a minute. Is this a story about moving away from J2EE, or about moving away from third-party proprietary tools that build code that's "very integrated into the tool"?

Look, this story doesn't read any better... or any more inaccurately... if we simply reverse the locations of "J2EE" and ".NET" in it. The problem here is that the company in question made a questionable decision: to base their application development on a third-party tool that couldn't be easily supported or replaced in the event the vendor went south. So when the vendor did tank, they found themselves in a thorny situation. That's not J2EE's fault. That's the company's fault.

This vetting of the third-party tool (or framework, or library, or ...) is a necessary precaution regardless of whether you're talking about the J2EE, .NET or native platforms, and whether that vendor is a commercial vendor or an open-source vendor. Some will take umbrage at the idea of treating an open-source project as a vendor, but ask yourself the hard question that few open-source advocates really talk much about: in the event the project committers abandon the project, are you really prepared to take up support for it yourself? At Java shows, I frequently ask how many people in the audience have used Tomcat, and almost 100% of the room raises their hand. I ask how many have actually looked at the Tomcat source code, and that number goes down dramatically. Swap in any project you care to name: Hibernate, Ant, Spring, you name it, lots of Java devs have used them, but few are prepared to support them. Open source projects have to be seen in the same light as vendors: some will disappear, some won't, and it's hard to tell which ones are which at the time you're looking to adopt them, so you're best off assuming the worst and figuring out your strategy.

It's called risk management assessment, and I wish more software development projects did it.

Does .NET offer integration to "other third-party tools"? Sure, depending on the tools, which can even include Java/J2EE, if you manage it right. (I should know.) Am I trying to advocate using J2EE over .NET or vice versa? Hell no--every company has to make the decision for itself, and every company's context is different. Some will even find that neither stack works well for them, and choose to go with something else, a la C++ or Ruby or Perl or... or whatever.

Just make sure you know what you are banking on, and how central (or not) those pieces are to your strategy.