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Showdown: Are You Ready to Rumble?

Showdown: Are You Ready to Rumble?

There is a raging debate in the developer community: Microsoft's new platform .NET versus the Sun standard J2EE. J2EE has been around for a few years, while Microsoft's attempt is decidedly the new kid on the block.

While the comparisons may be defined by some as purely technical, some have deemed it a battle of corporate cultures. Sun has certainly chosen to consider that the battle.

During a lunch discussion with my fellow officers in the Tulsa Java User Group, we explored the issues. We also decided to see if we could get some vendors to come in and discuss the issues from both perspectives. This expanded into a formal debate, and thus the .NET vs J2EE Smackdown was born. Our group started to plan this event; we contacted Microsoft and Sun and both sides were more than willing to engage.

On April 25, 2002, in the Williams Theater in downtown Tulsa, Microsoft and Sun came together on one stage (together again, for the first time anywhere) - and the battle was joined. The officers of the JUG decided to consult with the officers of the PBUG, and we held the meeting as a joint venture - sponsored by both user groups as well as Oaktree, Inc., a consulting company that sponsors our groups extensively. We had two podiums, many microphones, LAN connections, and team theme songs. It was exciting to watch as over 200 people filled the theater to see the Tulsa Smackdown, to find out what this debate was really about.

What If They Held a Raging Debate and Nobody Showed Up?
Microsoft and Sun showed up in force. Microsoft sent three of their technical evangelists: Mark "The Doctor" McLoughlin, Dave "Brick Wall" White, and Dino "Hannibal" Ciesa, while Sun sent a team of four of their faithful (and faith spreading): Bill "The Liberator" Day, Max "The Preacher" Goff, Rima "The Instigator" Patel, and Tom "Secret Weapon" Daly. They were all seasoned veterans of the software Ring Wars, and brought with them their colorful styles and insights. Microsoft chose "Eye of the Tiger" (from Rocky III) as their theme song, and as it poured out of the speaker systems they came proudly down the aisle of the theater, their Microsoft logo'd button-down finery on display. Sun chose an old Sly and the Family Stone song "Freedom" as their mantra and came boldly to the stage during their song.

The rules for the Smackdown were as follows: eight questions that each team had to answer; they were required to give software examples, state their case clearly, and show their stuff. Both teams had the questions ahead of time and had veto rights over anything they deemed unworthy. Each team had five minutes to present their case, then the other team had a five-minute rebuttal. They each had two yellow cards to raise as penalties on the other side if they deemed a question worthy of an immediate, two-minute rebuttal. It goes without saying that these two teams pulled their cards and used the maximum on each and every question.

The crowd was eager for the words, lines of code, and interfaces to fly, and so we began with introductions, prizes, and a lot of good cheer, then the debate began.

Two Companies Separated by a Common Coast
Sun and Microsoft brought some of their strongest speakers and came with a sense of anticipation that reportedly went far up the chain in their respective corporate worlds. And both came with their own specific agenda. Microsoft came intent on showing a room full of programmers what their product can do and how truly RAD it is. Sun came with a lot of invective and vitriol, and the intention of making this debate about the stark differences in their corporate cultures and goals.

The debate began with five-minute introductions. Microsoft came on first, providing a somewhat detailed and very colorful blanket overview of .NET. They gave a strong summary of what their systems could do, how they connected together, and what we had to gain from their use.

Sun came out with a copy of "the lawsuit" and began talking about the differences between the corporate cultures at Microsoft and Sun. They said, "Point of fact..." and then quoted the lawsuit regarding Microsoft's predisposition for disposing of the competition and using unfair trade practices. There was not much in the way of information about J2EE.

Top Questions from Our Home Office in Enid, Oklahoma...
The following are the questions posed to each side and the approximate responses.

1.   What sets your platform apart from that of your competitor?
Microsoft talked about the speed with which they could deploy their product, the multiple language and platform independence of .NET, and how easily integrated it could be.

Sun talked about customer service, feeling a warm commitment from your vendor, and avoiding the evil demons that live in the Seattle area. They also talked about unfair trading practices and monopolies.

2.   CMP TechWeb defines the term Web services as "Web-based applications that dynamically interact with other Web applications using open standards that include XML, UDDI, and SOAP. Microsoft's .NET and Sun's J2EE are the major development platforms that natively support these standards." What is your platform's level of support for Web services? Can you show us using your platform and tools?
Microsoft created a Web service, deployed it, and brought data in from a database with a few simple keystrokes. They had to uncomment some code in predeveloped areas, and it took a few seconds for the data to return their request across the Web, but it was an extremely impressive demonstration.

Sun did show some slides on this one, and brought up lists of powerful clients they had serviced or who had used Sun's products.

3.   Designing and constructing a multitier transactional Web-based application to support hundreds (if not thousands) of simultaneous users is a very daunting task. How does your platform address these complexities and empower organizations to build such applications quickly and with minimal expense? Can you show us using your platform and tools?
Sun approached this with some very strong examples of Web sites they built or support involving hundreds and/or thousands of users. The most impressive was probably the ESPN Web site, a site that definitely has a huge fan base. They did give an example of how to throw connectivity together very quickly; unfortunately, it never did load.

Microsoft again showed some PowerPoint and explained how .NET can be made more flexible. There was no time for either contender to get into a whole lot of detail but they both showed good examples.

4.   Many of our audience members are software developers who are constantly looking to hone their skills and learn the latest technologies. Ultimately, each one of us will try and decide which platform will produce the most marketable skill set. Do you think your platform offers the most marketable skills and if so, why?
This question brought about surprising and unexpected responses. Microsoft gave a two-minute talk on how to leverage your current skill set and make use of your C++ and Visual Basic knowledge. They addressed their training program and the wide availability of classes and skill-building tools, from online to college classes.

Sun took the stance that if you decided to become a .NET developer, you were just in it for the quick buck, the easy money. The speaker was critical of anyone who didn't choose what he considered the slower but stronger path to growth and money by learning Java. Addressing a room full of analysts and developers with regard to learning skills quickly and becoming more profitable, he could have chosen his words differently. Also, the path to quick money does not typically lie in the use of tools.

Java does have a huge market share advantage; perhaps they don't have a ready-made platform for their tools, but no one in the room doubted that they had the upperhand in this phase of the discussion. They simply chose, again, not to present the strong things that they could do. They continued railing about too much filthy lucre in the Microsoft camp.

5.   Security is becoming increasingly more important to organizations. Explain your platform's security infrastructure and how it differs from your competitor's platform.
This question was really Sun's chance to shine. Sun began with a lot of facts and figures about Microsoft's security issues. This has been pretty widely disseminated in the press and Microsoft quickly confessed that they had indeed been working very hard at bringing themselves up to speed. This also led to an argument over who had raped the Pet Shop application most thoroughly. Both sides did a lot of finger pointing, and they both pointed to a number of bench tests.

Microsoft and their failing Passport system did have a decided disadvantage on this question. While it may be true that you don't have to use Passport, it's very difficult to get around in a lot of Web areas without it. It does seem like another area where Microsoft was attempting a coup. Big points to Sun on this question.

6.   Gartner estimates that there will be 901 million mobile phone users worldwide by 2003, while Palm, Inc., continues to report record sales of their Palm Pilot handheld. In short, handheld devices are here to stay and the market is expected to experience continued growth. Does your platform support the development of mobile clients? If so, provide the details.
This question saw great presentations from both sides. Sun had programs they had written, then downloaded into their cell phone during the presentation. The ease with which the tech displayed movie sites for Tulsa, letting us all know what was showing at the AMC 20, was very cool. It was not really clear how this was directly J2EE-related. But he did show a lot of slides regarding their flexibility with many phones.

Microsoft did a similar slide presentation and was frustrated by the lack of a mini camera to display their phone screen. They did a decent presentation, but again, because they chose to demonstrate their technological capabilities, point and set to Sun on this question.

7.   The cost of development, deployment, and maintenance significantly impacts software development projects. How does your platform stack up in terms of these costs when compared to your competitor's platform?
The question of cost caused a rousing debate, and as time was running out we made question seven the last of the Smackdown.

Microsoft had some very strong points about the cost of their server software and .NET platform in general - bringing their totals in at under $10,000 for a well-equipped enterprise tool. They were very critical of Sun and BEA for the costs of servers and O/S software, quoting numbers in the hundreds of thousands and tearing into their opponent a bit.

Sun retorted with a strong presentation touting both Linux and Apache as free and J2EE-compliant. They attempted to demonstrate this with slides, which was interesting. However, the Sun sales reps are not pushing Apache or Linux - they're driving the market toward their O/S, their flavor of UNIX. Microsoft held the advantage in this piece of the debate and so our competition came to a close.

In the final analysis, both teams made a strong showing. The general consensus was that Microsoft did a better job of showing off their technological capabilities. They used more samples, and their actual program examples were breathtaking. There was a bit of disappointment in Sun's approach - attacking Microsoft's character - and any time they used their technology to advantage they looked very strong, probably stronger and older in their product lifetime.

The various camps gathered around the myriad reps out front and collected trinkets into their bags: pens, books, and T-shirts. The Microsoft crowd was very pleased with their presentations, and the Sun crowd felt very vindicated and righteous. It was a strong event on the whole, educating at times, frustrating at others. No matter whose side you might fall on though, you got to see some sparks and hear a couple of major players tell their tale.

More Stories By Mike Deasy

Michael Deasy is an application specialist with the State of Washington. He has been working with PowerBuilder since version 3. Mike holds an MBA from Southern a senior systems analyst for the Williams from Southern Nazarene University.

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Most Recent Comments
07/12/02 02:59:00 PM EDT

I'm seeing a large migration to the windows OS...., .Net even if it doesn't have technical edge as compared to J2EE (if thats true), becomes more appealing when you use a windows network environment, servers, office tools, etc. Everything works together and you don't have to spend hours trying to get it to work as you do with some of the java related stuff. We have been using java, and we will develop some new projects on .net this year. It will be interesting to see which will wins us over.

P.S.
Sun will probly be kicking itself for the lawsuit in the future and I agree about IBM taking lead of java technology.

Naveen Sydney 07/12/02 02:28:00 PM EDT

If Sun wants to talk about Microsoft's business culture and issues...i just have one question.. why is Sun killing JBOSS?...so much for Sun promoting Open Source!!. I think Sun aint the best company to represent Java Developers.

Ted Barbusinski 07/12/02 01:56:00 PM EDT

J2EE blows .NET away completely on technical merits alone. The depth, richness and reliability of this platform is awesome by comparison to .NET which is a version 1.0 platform with an agressive marketing strategy. Why would Sun choose to promote Java based on corporate cultural differences. Nobody cares! Java should have been represented by IBM. At least they understand what J2EE is and why it's by far the best solution.

Igor Koziak 07/12/02 12:38:00 PM EDT

I think Sun has choosen a bad strategy to promote Java and J2EE. I am talking about too often fingerpointing to the "Evil" Microsoft instead on focusing on the technology itself. Why do I consider this to be a bad approach?
1) It looks like there is nothing interesting about the technology itself if they put the main focus elsewhere (Microsoft or whatever else). If introduction to the platform is about quoting the lawsuit against Microsoft, it makes me feel that the whole purpose of Java and J2EE is just to kick Microsoft's ass - little bit too "cheap" reason to live for such a cool platform, is't it?
2) My experience is if I want to make a perfect work, I have to stay focused on what I am doing, not on finding out what's wrong with the others (with the exception of learning to avoid the same mistakes and to make my work better). Which in this case means, instead of focusing on, possibly relevant, but definitely unconstructive criticism, making sure the crucial presentation is prepared perfectly (referring to failed connectivity example in Q #3). Everybody should agree the second is harder to accomplish, and I trully hope that was not the main reason to focus on the first...