JavaOne : Sun and BEA push to make Java easy

Developers at this week’s JavaOne conference will get a chance to check the progress that tools vendors have made in their long quest to ease Java programming so they can better compete against Microsoft Corp.

For starters, conference sponsor Sun Microsystems Inc. will try to reassert itself as a major player with the release of Java Studio Creator. The visually oriented tool aims to “make it as easy to develop for the Java platform as Visual Basic makes it for Windows,” according to Joe Keller, the company’s vice-president of Java Web services developer tools marketing.

But some developers may cast an eye toward a joint venture between BEA Systems Inc., Instantiations Inc. and the Eclipse Foundation, the non-profit spin-off overseeing the open-source development framework that IBM Corp. created. The vendors will announce plans for an open-source incubator project, called Pollinate, to create Eclipse-based development tools that integrate with Apache Beehive, an application runtime framework BEA turned over to the open-source community.

“The big theme is bringing Java to the masses,” said Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “Studio Creator and what BEA is doing with Beehive are targeted at bringing Java to the mortal man, making it more attractive to the corporate IT programmer versus the highly skilled systems programmers.”

A beta version of Pollinate is due this fall under the Eclipse Public License. When it arrives, Eclipse users will get a chance to try BEA’s Java Control architecture, a lightweight server-side component model that reduces the low-level plumbing code developers need to write.

“That sounds like a great idea,” said Michael Reagin, the Portland, Ore.-based director of research and development at Providence Health System, which uses BEA’s application server and Eclipse. “It certainly would support the vision of open-source, and I think it’s going to be a positive for BEA and Java in general.”

Reagin said the nonprofit organization looked at commercial offerings that required expensive, high-powered developer workstations and “didn’t see a whole lot of value compared to Eclipse.” Only 30 per cent of Providence Health System’s development work is done in Java, and it gravitated toward the freely available Eclipse integrated development environment, he said. Dave Cotter, director of developer marketing at BEA, said that if a vendor creates a control today, it works only on BEA’s WebLogic. But with Beehive, vendors could create controls for the Tomcat open-source application server or any J2EE-based application server that supports Beehive.

“Developers want to know that they can use the framework and not be locked into BEA’s tools,” said Driver. “The potential is that Beehive could become the de facto framework for high-productivity products — what we’re calling the ‘J2EZ space,’ where time to market, low cost and productivity are driving factors.”

Sun’s J2EZ offering, Java Studio Creator, will be available only to Sun Developer Network subscribers. The US$99 price includes a perpetual license to Java Studio Creator and one year of product updates, upgrades and access to premium content.

This week, Sun plans to release an early-access copy of its Java Studio Enterprise tool, which adds support for the Unified Modeling Language and application profiling.

Sun also plans to unveil the 4.0 release of its NetBeans application framework, which adds support for the creation of Enterprise JavaBeans and Web services and a project management system based on The Apache Software Foundation’s Ant. Keller said NetBeans 4.0 could be out in late summer or early fall.

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