Way back in the late 90s, training organizations implementing LMSs had to learn about the differences between SQL Server and Oracle databases. Today, training organizations have to understand the new portal competitors of Microsoft .NET and Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) because an increasing number of e-learning suppliers are committing to one or the other to deliver tighter integration and advanced functionality. For example, Microsoft bought PlaceWare, a Java-based product, and is rewriting it completely for their .NET platform.
Two smart e-learning companies made different calls: Plateau committed to J2EE and THINQ to .NET, which makes their two chief technology officers, Ed Cohen (Plateau) and Chris Moore (THINQ), the perfect people to discuss this emerging technology.
Q: What is .NET and J2EE?
Chris: .NET and J2EE are software platforms. .NET is a platform developed and supported by Microsoft, while J2EE is a platform developed by Sun Microsystems together with such industry partners as IBM. Worth noting, though, is that J2EE is a specification, whereas .NET is a product.
As a product, .NET has a defined set of capabilities and a Microsoft development and support infrastructure wrapped around it. As a specification, Sun and its industry partners define J2EE, and the adopters of the J2EE specification implement the development and support infrastructures independently. J2EE and .NET do compete for market and mind share, but most organizations use a blend of both. Neither of these platforms are standards in the true sense of the word.
Ed: Both allow you to accomplish similar goals, but using a completely different underlying technology and architecture.
Chris: Maybe not that different. Both designs are derivatives from the Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) design, which in turn, was a derivative from the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) originally specified by IBM.
Ed: But unlike .NET, J2EE is being engineered by a group of companies that include
hardware and software vendors, which has some advantages.
Q: What kinds of training activities are influenced by .NET or J2EE?
Ed: I can’t think of any training that’s influenced by an application server technology. However, many IT departments follow one or the other technology as if it were a religion, and that will ultimately influence purchasing decisions.
Chris: That’s right. The technology is completely behind the scenes.
Q: What does it mean for an organization to commit to one or another?
Why not both?
Ed: Many companies focus on one for pure performance and engineering reasons. You could design your code to be a least common denominator, but then you’re not able to take advantage of what either system offers.
Chris: The major difference in the commitment level between .NET and J2EE is the underlying programming environment used to write these software solutions. With .NET, programming can be done in a variety of languages, including Cobol, C++, C#, Visual Basic, Eiffel. With J2EE, however, programming must be done in Java.
In fact, most organizations use .NET and/or Microsoft technologies, as well as J2EE or Java. There are very few purists in the information technology (IT) world.
Q: Why did you choose the strategy that you did?
Ed: Plateau uses J2EE for platform independence, scalability, and performance. J2EE is definitely harder to develop for, but the end product can be deployed on just about anything, including Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, as well as a number of other platforms. We’re able to scale the number of records and simultaneous users to a level that we haven’t seen in any .NET-based solution.
Chris: J2EE is a bit like SCORM. Every SCORM adopter interprets the SCORM specification and then builds products and support for interoperability based on their interpretation. As a result, there’s a substantial amount of tweaking required to make these specification-built systems truly portable and plug-and-play.
Ed: J2EE is an actual standard--unlike SCORM, which is a proposed specification.
Chris: But a product like .NET is completely encapsulated within its product environment, and it becomes highly portable within its supported operating environment. In the case of .NET, that operating environment is the Windows 2000 operating system. For J2EE, the operating environment is one of many different Unix-based operating systems.
THINQ chose .NET as our strategy because of our prior experience with Microsoft programming environments, and the fact that .NET is built from the ground up to support a technology called Web Services. We believe we can offer our customers a lower total cost of ownership for an enterprise learning management system built around .NET. In fact, when it comes to price/performance ratios, I've never seen a J2EE-based system beat a .NET system.
Q: What’s a good place to go for more information?
Ed: For a good overview of J2EE, visit http://java.sun.com/j2ee/overview.html.
Chris: For more details, on price/performance, go to http://www.tpc.org/tpcc/results/tpcc_price_perf_results.asp.
Chris and Ed, thank you very much.
Published: June 20, 2003