Technology from Harrod's Creek
Data Spaces: JXTA and Dot Net
In the weeks and months ahead, an increasing number of new network-centric applications will become available.
A quick review of the Microsoft Dot Net architecture at www.gotdotnet.com leaves one with a feeling that Dot Net and JXTA are on a collision course.
For those in the Unix community, JXTA and Sun ONE offers a platform on which to build what the trade press has called "intelligent Web applications." The idea is to use the stability and speed of Unix-based systems to create live data spaces for commerce, personalization, portal, and applications that provide a seamless user experience. Project JXTA started as a research project incubated at Sun Microsystems, Inc. under the guidance of Bill Joy and Mike Clary, to address the peer-to-peer space. Sun provides a wealth of technical information, both free and for-fee software, and sample applications at www.sun.com/software/sunone.
A major part of the Java vision is JXTA. JXTA is a set of open, generalized peer-to-peer protocols that allow any connected device (cell phone, to PDA, PC to server) on the network to communicate and collaborate. Information about JXTA appears at www.jxta.org/project/www/background.html.
JXTA and Sun ONE are an alternative to the Microsoft Dot Net initiative. Sun ONE includes the Java programming language in its server, client, and wireless incarnations. In addition, Sun ONE uses the Extensible Markup Language as a key architectural component. XML transport both data and metadata as well as performing a range of housekeeping tasks in Sun ONE applications. Dot Net matches these elements with a congruency that a beginning maths student can easily discern.
At this time, JXTA and Sun ONE appear to be on a track to bake in the peer-to-peer, search-and-retrieval technology from start-up Infrasearch, which Sun Microsystems acquired in 2000. Infrasearch was a promising peer-to-peer search-and-retrieval technology developed by Gene Kan, who had deep roots in the Gnutella peer-to-peer technology.
The interesting question is, "Who will win the race for the next-generation network applications?" Sun Microsystems appears to have an early lead, a large number of programmers comfortable with Java as a programming language, and the attention of computer scientists such as Dr. Gelernter.
Microsoft Corporation, on the other hand, has the ubiquity of the Microsoft applications and the newest version of Windows XP server platforms. Microsoft has created a new programming language called C#, which has been tailored to offer Java's run-anywhere capability bundled with Visual Basic's point-and-click programming model beefed up with many of the features of the powerful C++ language. More important was Microsoft's decision to put its new C# language and its Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) as "open standards." Sun, of course, has kept Java under its control.
The use of peer-to-peer technology burst upon the non-commercial scene when Napster became a convenient way to share music. Like Napster, Groove uses a user's machine as a server. Unlike Napster, Groove exists to allow authorized users to reduce the time and cost associated with certain types of collaborative work.
Ray Ozzie's Groove was one of the first commercial products to exploit peer-to-peer technology for organizational messaging. Groove is based on Microsoft's Component Object Model and the Extensible Markup Language. Groove is a good example of the type of application that one can build using key elements of what Microsoft calls its Dot Net architecture. To download the Groove software, visit www.groove.net.
Groove allows two or more individuals, regardless of location, to have access to peer connections, relay services, synchronization services, content management, and security services on an ad hoc basis. A system administrator is not required to create a Groove "space" or add or drop participants.
Mr. Ozzie, the innovator behind the seminar Lotus Notes products, saw that linking users and their computers in a type of "private Internet" was possible. Using Groove, two or more individuals can create a miniature network-within-a-network.
Groove and similar peer-to-peer systems require that the user or users decide to cooperate. Some potential users of peer-to-peer messaging technology want a more fluid approach to messaging and file sharing. Others see that the ability to provide differential access to various network functions should built into the system itself.
Another exciting offering is Scopeware, Version 2. This software comes from keyboard of David Gelernter . It, like Groove, points clearly toward the distributed, peer-to-peer, PC and mobile phone applications for organizations.
Dr. Gelernter's new company is called Mirror World Technologies, Inc. In July 2001, Mirror World Technologies, Inc., Dr. Gelernter's new firm, closed a $6.5 million Series B Preferred Stock financing, led by Millennium 3 Opportunity Fund, LLC, based in Roseland, New Jersey,
At first glance, Scopeware is a search-and-retrieval system. Documents reside on client PCs or servers. A user can search for a document using a standard search box.
The results, however, are displayed in a note card metaphor. The documents are displayed with the most recent first. A closer look at the information provided about each document reveals that the software provides basic bibliographic information, a extract or summary, and a visual cue about the type of file. Scopeware can manipulate Web pages, Word documents, Adobe Portable Document Format files, and other file types.
Shown in the image below, Scopeware's stream view displays documents using a notecard metaphor. Documents appear with the newest at the top of the stack. Each notecard provides information about the author, title, and date of the document. Summaries of each document are generated for each retrieved document. You can click on the image to see a larger version.
The Scopeware software offers the licensing organization several interesting options. First, Scopeware supports a range of wireless devices, including mobile telephones and such hand held devices as Palm, Handspring, and iPaq among others. No special programming is required to enable a user's access to documents or other types of content when away from a wireline connection.
Second, Scopeware has a legacy document module. Organizations can scan documents, index them, and then display the page image on the screen of a suitable viewing device. Although Adobe provides a version of the Acrobat Reader for PDAs, complex documents are best reserved for large-screen monitors.
Third, Scopeware is a "data aware" network application. A user interested in a particular subject has access to the most recent information available. Scopeware recognizes new documents, launches the indexing modules, and performs the updating of queries as a native task. The system is almost automatic, and it delivers solid performance. Large documents do require bandwidth, so Scopeware performs best when there is sufficient network capacity to move documents from their location on client machines or servers to the user who requests them.
Finally, Scopeware can be integrated into existing network applications via an Applications Programming Interface. Note that Scopeware is a Java-centric program. It makes use of Java spaces to perform a wide range of alerting, indexing, and administrative services. Nevertheless, Scopeware works effectively within an Internet Explorer browser.
Scopeware uses the Sun ONE technologies. Scopeware is evidence that Java provides more or equivalent technical horsepower than Microsoft's Dot Net offerings.
What does this mean to a organization planning to reduce its costs for computing and information services? In the short term, most organizations may not need to embrace a particular approach. Within the next 12 months, choices will begin to lock an organization into a Microsoft path or a Java / Unix path. Many factors will go into making a particular architectural decision.
One certainty exists in the application world. Intelligent, Web-centric, network messaging applications are beginning to define the next "big thing" in software and system services. Peer-to-peer applications appear to be the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to provide applications that integrate legacy data, support real-time messaging, and mesh with the types of work flows that are emerging in our post-Internet world.
Web sites mentioned in this month's column:
Mirror World Technologies, Inc.
Stephen E. Arnold
Mr. Arnold is an independent consultant working from Harrod's Creek, Kentucky, USA with two boxer dogs and 13 servers. His most recent book is "The New Trajectory of the Internet," published by Infonortics, Ltd., Tetbury, Glou. Mr. Arnold specializes in competitive intelligence and technology analysis.
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