New tools on display at JavaOne show

“For the times they are a changin’,” sang Bob Dylan in his tuneful call to action, imploring citizens to help make the world a better place. The phrase could also apply to the Java development community, judging from insights collected at the recently held JavaOne show.

The event, Sun Microsystems Inc.’s annual gathering for Java developers, held June 26 to 30 in San Francisco, was a manifestation of the changes being felt throughout the Java developer community. Java-minded tech vendors were busy unveiling new tools for app-creators to consider, while attendees mulled the implications of this mutating scene.

One of the prime announcements out of JavaOne was Sun’s decision to open-source some of its Java technologies. The first day of the event saw the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor offer the code behind its Java System Application Server Platform Edition 9.0 to the open-source community.

Now “anybody can get it, look at it and make their own distribution of it,” said Tim Bray, Sun’s Vancouver-based director of Web technologies.

Sun open-sourced the code behind its Solaris operating system in June.

True to form, Sun CEO Scott McNealy bristled at the notion that Sun should open-source even more of its technology.

“What do you mean ‘more?’ We’re the leaders in open source,” he said during a JavaOne press conference, referencing Sun’s beginnings, making unique versions of open-source software. “That’s like saying Wayne Gretzky scored a lot of goals.”

The firm’s open-source inclination is good news, said Jennifer McNeill, CEO of CipherSoft Inc., a Calgary-based company specializing in software that translates Oracle Corp. application information into Java data. “It’s important because companies’ IT budgets have changed dramatically,” McNeill said of the growing open-source movement. “[Businesses] used to be completely comfortable buying modeling software for $200,000. Now, in Java, they can download some really good open-source modeling software for an inexpensive price, if they have to pay for it all.”

But for companies like Sun, IBM and Oracle, they somehow have to differentiate themselves with what they’re offering, McNeill said, noting the balancing effect of open source. “All of a sudden, they’re all on a level playing field….They’ve had to change the way they deal with customers based on that. For the industry, that’s a good thing, but I think it’s going to be painful for a lot of companies, and some aren’t going to make it.”

Sun’s business model revolves around seeding the digital landscape with standard technologies like Java, and then selling customized versions of it, as well as support contracts to help businesses manage their IT infrastructure.

Tech vendors seem to be doing their utmost to ride the rising Java wave. For instance, Oracle announced that it would work with Sun as the co-lead on the Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) 3.0 specification, a Java platform building block.

“Oracle is extending its expertise in object relational mapping and persistence technology to meet the needs of the entire development community,” said Steven Harris, Oracle’s vice-president, Java platform group, in a statement.

Meanwhile, IBM Corp. said it would extend its Java licence with Sun for another 10 years, so Big Blue will continue to use Sun Java products like the Java Platform Enterprise Edition (Java EE, formerly known as J2EE — Sun removed the “2” for simplicity), Java Platform Standard Edition (Java SE) and Java Platform Micro Edition (Java ME).

“We’ve seen a lot of progress in the last 10 years,” said Robert LeBlanc, IBM’s general manager, WebSphere, the middleware platform. “But we still have a lot of work to do” on Java.

Cameron Roe, chief software architect of PsiNaptic Inc., a Calgary app-dev house, attended JavaOne. He said he learned plenty about XML serialization techniques at the event. XML serialization uses the extensible mark-up language to save and reconstitute objects on different kinds of application platforms.

PsiNaptic works in Jini, a Sun-created tech that lets mobile computers connect to and control household devices — turn on the kitchen lights via your BlackBerry, for example. XML serialization could help Roe’s firm make its wares work with non-Java systems like Microsoft Corp.’s .Net.

“There’s no reason why the common language runtime in Microsoft can’t take advantage of Jini as well.” JavaOne participants also heard about Sun’s plans for Java SE 6, expected to be available next summer. This Standard Edition of the Java platform will feature a new XML stack, a new scripting engine, and the ability to work with the .Net common language runtime (CLR), Sun said.

Attendees got the lowdown on Sun’s Java Studio Creator 2. This, the latest version of the integrated development environment, is built on the open-source NetBeans IDE 4.1, and includes an expanded list of JavaServer Faces components for rich Web-app development.

Sun’s execs talked up the firm’s acquisition of SeeBeyond Technology Corp., an application-integration program provider. About 2,000 SeeBeyond customers are expected to become Sun clients thanks to this US$387-million deal.

Industry observers wondered how Sun would leverage the combination of its traditional business lines with SeeBeyond’s wares and those of StorageTek Technology Corp., the data storage equipment vendor that Sun bought in June.

“I don’t want to tip my hand,” CEO McNealy said. All of the announcements seemed to boost some participants’ confidence in Sun. “They’re making some good decisions,” said McNeill from CipherSoft. But “they have their work cut out for them as .Net becomes mature. You never want to bet against Bill Gates.”

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