ActiveX and Java: Sizzle without substance for IS

Lisa Nadile

Component Strategy

After an initial flurry of Java and ActiveX rubbernecking, large corporate sites are sitting back for what they see as a long wait for a usable component strategy to emerge.

Eighteen of 20 corporate IS managers interviewed last week said a lack of standards and infrastructure has sapped their initial enthusiasm for the products. Despite the truckload of third-party vendors announcing support for ActiveX following its debut at Microsoft Corp.'s Professional Developers Conference this month, the managers remain unimpressed.

"I found Java compelling and the rest interesting, but the market is too unstable. I'm hoping for standards soon," said John Berting, manager of software engineering for Rheometric Scientific Inc., in Piscataway, N.J.

"Right now, in order to do something serious with Java, for example, I need a set of development tools that will let me work with a very rich minimal core set of functions standard to any Java component the way Windows has a set of standard functionality. There is no such thing so I can't leverage the technology," Berting said.

An IS manager for a large pharmaceuticals company agrees that messages from vendors are mixed and the benefits have not been made clear. Once the issues have been addressed, however, large-scale adoption of the technology can begin.

"Java is an amazing technology, and ActiveX has essentially been around awhile, but there is a lot to iron out before we can use it effectively. Eventually this will happen, but corporate users need to be shown the hows and whys of components and their benefits."

The absence of pricing models, case studies of best practices, security standards, support options, or a clear understanding of exactly how to use components on their enterprises were reasons users cited for their reserve.

"I think Microsoft is aware that this component business is a scary one for users. They know managers see it as [potentially] allowing a thousand applets to be installed on their networks without [managers'] control," said an East Coast components developer.

Using components to build, customize, and distribute applications across an enterprise is an appealing concept to corporate users, as is the possibility of publishing components with dynamic information.

However, until ironclad security is assured in Internet communications and in component technology itself, few corporations are willing to commit.

"One of the biggest applications would be for secure purchasing transactions. That's most important: components that offer secure information exchange," said David Brown, supervisor of business planning and support for Atlantic Energy Inc., in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

In the meantime, component technology offers more sizzle than substance.

"I've seen a lot of real snazzy demos, but no real answers. ActiveX and all the rest have impressed me as being completely, 100 percent buzzword-compliant," said Chuck Kramer, manager of microcomputer and LAN services for Social & Scientific Systems Inc., in Bethesda, Md.

One software executive said users are right in taking a wait-and-see approach, but believes they eventually will realize the long-term benefits of component-based computing.

"A lot of these issues are being overblown," said J. Paul Grayson, chairman and CEO of Micrografx Inc., in Richardson, Texas. "All of these questions will be answered in time."

Component Software: Pros and Cons

What they're used for:

As add-ons to customize other applications and operating systems

To distribute applications, updates, and patches

To provide added functionality within an application

As a publishing medium for documents and content created in other applications

To manage software and data on corporate networks

User concerns:

Uncertain business/pricing model

Lack of product vision from third-party vendors

Inadequate online security

Absence of widely accepted industry standards