Oracle proposes API to extend Java tools

Oracle Corp. announced that it’s trying to establish a standard way for software vendors to get their Java development tools to work with one another.

Oracle submitted a specification for a new application programming interface (API) to the Java Community Process (JCP), which Sun Microsystems Inc. established to help Java technology evolve. The JCP executive committee was to vote on the proposal this month, according to Ted Farrell, architect and director of strategy for application development tools at Oracle.

Farrell said that the adoption of a standard API would eliminate the need for vendors to build different extensions to get their tools to interoperate with other companies’ Java development environments or open-source platforms, such as Eclipse and NetBeans. Eclipse was launched by IBM, while NetBeans was started by Sun.

Oracle is trying to act as a peacemaker between Sun and IBM, said Tom Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “It will remain to be seen how effective they can be,” Murphy said. “But it would be good for end users if they’re successful.” Users might get more productive Java tools if the API is adopted widely, he added.

So far, Oracle has announced support for its proposed API from only three vendors – Sun, San Francisco-based Macromedia Inc. and Prague-based JetBrains Inc.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said he wouldn’t put the odds at any better than even that Oracle’s proposal will succeed in easing tensions among Java tools vendors.

For now, Gilpin said, the Eclipse development platform has momentum with many vendors. IBM gave control of the Eclipse technology to an open-source community last November. The tools vendors that support Eclipse enable their users to work from a single portal-like interface.

The Eclipse project is managed by a consortium of vendors that includes IBM, Borland Software Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Rational Software Corp. But there are some notable holdouts.

Oracle had been one of them, but recently it also announced its election to the Eclipse board. Farrell, who will serve as Oracle’s representative on the board, said the company wants to ensure that Eclipse users have the same benefits when building applications for Oracle products as users of its Oracle9i JDeveloper tool have.

Farrell said Eclipse suffers from the stigma of incorporating its own Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) for creating user interfaces instead of the JCP-backed Swing technology. Currently, Eclipse is “very IBM-focused,” Farrell added.

Scott Hebner, director of WebSphere marketing at IBM, said users should look at Swing and SWT as complementary technologies. “What Oracle is appearing to do is create a bridge between the two.” Hebner said. “The question would be: Why didn’t Sun do that?”

Sun officials couldn’t be reached for comment. Mark Herring, senior director of marketing, said in a statement that Sun plans to fully support Oracle’s API proposal.