Jan 00 Online
Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: MacTech Online
by Jeff Clites <firstname.lastname@example.org>
For reasons known only to Apple itself, the Powers that Be have decided not to market WebObjects aggressively, at least for the present. The problem this poses for would-be implementers, of course, is that it makes WebObjects a tough sell in corporate environments, where IT managers may simply not have heard of it. This, combined with the anti-Apple sentiment which is common in Windows- and Unix-centered companies, makes it an uphill battle for consultants and programmers to convince the decision-makers that WebObjects is the best tool for the job at hand. While a few well-placed print ads would go a long way toward making this process easier, for the time being we must fend for ourselves as WebObjects advocates. The good news is that there are a growing number of articles and reports on the internet which give honest evaluations of WebObjects and its place among the competition, and these help lend some credibility to arguments in favor of WebObjects. It's refreshing to see even this limited amount of coverage in the mainstream press, even though the reviews aren't always positive. For instance, check out the articles by PCWeek and CNET, and be sure to read the Stepwise response to an earlier PCWeek review. (The review itself seems to be gone from PCWeek's servers.)
CNET.com - WebObjects: Apple's best-kept secret?
ZDNet: PC Week: 8 Web App Servers That Deliver
What's wrong with the PCWeek Application Server shoot-out?
One of the first questions someone will ask when they hear about WebObjects is, "Who's using it?". Apple has a huge list of corporate customers on their web site, as well as in-depth articles on how WebObjects is being used by AAA, Consumers Digest, and GE Capital, and Stepwise has an article on its use at the L.A. Times (and links to several other users in the above-mentioned PCWeek rebuttal article). Also, the Fall 1999 issue of the Apple University Arts online magazine has several stories of WebObjects deployment in university and educational settings. Finally, MacCentral has a brief article which reiterates just how many big-name customers are using WebObjects. It's too bad that this comes as a surprise even to Apple supporters.
The L.A. Times introduces a WebObjects-based NBA basketball stats app
Apple University Arts, Fall 1999
They like WebObjects 4, they really like it
After you've impressed potential detractors with all of the important users of WebObjects, impress them with all of the honors it has received recently, including awards from the Java Developer's Journal, New Media Magazine, and Network Computing.
Industry Awards for WebObjects
New Media Feature: The Next Big Thing
1999 Well-Connected Awards "The 50 Best Products of the Year"
Many of the resources I've mentioned so far are located on Apple's site, and it goes without saying that this is the best place to start learning about WebObjects and what it can do. Be sure to explore Apple's WebObjects product pages, especially their "Beyond Wizardry on the Web" section, which gives a more technical overview. (I'll leave it to you to decide if it is good or bad that all of the screen shots in this section are from a Windows machine.)
Apple - Products - WebObjects 4
Beyond Wizardry on the Web
On the more technical side, there are two key reports from independent parties which give WebObjects very high marks. One is an informative white paper from IDC, and the other is a detailed benchmark and feature comparison of a number of application servers written by TechMetrix. The actual report is a bit pricey, but there is an extensive excerpt on their web site which is detailed enough to reveal that WebObjects basically blew away the competition in their tests. This is probably the strongest objective praise I've seen for WebObjects. (A good companion to this is the article "More Than A Movement" by Information Week, which gives descriptions of all of the major contenders in the application server market.) Lastly, see "The Cost of Deploying WebObjects" on the Twin Forces web site, which gives a well-thought-out analysis of the real-world expense of running a site based on WebObjects, and concludes that it is a lot less than you probably think. It also includes a section on all of the different things you might want to measure in an application server benchmark, and reminds us how important it is to notice whether benchmarks are answering the question we really are asking.
Apple's WebObjects: An IDC White Paper
TechMetrix: Application Server Report
More Than A Movement
The cost of deploying WebObjects
Benchmarking WO Performance
With the current popularity of Java, another question which will come up often is whether WebObjects allows you to utilize Sun's Enterprise Java Beans. The short answer is that it doesn't, and the latest word is that there are no plans to change this. This may seem bad, but really it isn't.
In a nutshell, EJBs exist mainly to manage object-to-database mapping and allow Java programmers to partially forget that their objects are made persistent by a relational database-to work with them as objects rather than data. This is exactly the task taken on by the Enterprise Objects Framework (a framework included with WebObjects), and as such it makes little sense to want EJB integration into WebObjects, because it isn't needed. (It might be possible to retool WebObjects to use EJBs in place of EOF, but this appears to be a step in the wrong direction, in terms of both design and performance.) There was an informative comparison of the two technologies in a post to the WebObjects mailing list, and you can read the archived version on the web. Whether WebObjects embraces EJBs in the future may well be a marketing decision, as even articles which mostly praise WebObjects point to this as a major departure from the industry and, therefore, a flaw (see, for instance, the CNET article "WebObjects: Apple's best-kept secret?" in the before mentioned).
WebObjects archive: EJB
I hope this is enough to tell you what you need to know to give WebObjects a fair evaluation. An encouraging note is that an Apple engineer recently remarked that where 1999 was the year of hardware at Apple, 2000 will be the year of software. This is a tall order-1999 gave us the Blue and White Yosemite G3, the G4, DV iMacs, the iBook, AirPort, and feather-light PowerBooks. If 2000 even comes close, it will be amazing.
Next month I plan to continue with WebObjects, covering resources you'll need when you actually begin programming. You can get started early by reading the technical overview which MacTech published in 1997.
MacTech #13.05: An Introduction to WebObjects
In the mean time, be sure to check out the links on the MacTech Online web pages at www.mactech.com/online/.