Can TomEE save Java EE?

Founder of Apache TomEE project believes there's life left in the Java EE programming model, leads the charge to prove it

The world of Java EE (formerly J2EE) seems frozen in time. The people who care about application servers tend to dwell in gray cubicle farms. They need WebSphere to stay up on their P6/P7 hardware, but aren't really thinking about the future too much.

The counterpoint to that legacy caricature is Apache TomEE -- and the recent announcement by PaaS provider Jelastic that it's adding support. TomEE is a Java EE version of Apache Tomcat that embraces several related Apache Java projects as well.

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TomEE gives proof to a corollary to Conway's Law, in that it very much reflects the personality of its founder, David Blevins. A longtime Java EE and open source veteran, Blevins is a co-founder of OpenEJB (1999) and Apache Geronimo (2003). He has worked actively in the Java Community Process since EJB 3.0 and more broadly in Java EE since Java EE 6.

I asked Blevins what motivates him, and he cited "a somewhat stubborn nature and belief that while some things may get a bad reputation, such as Java EE, it's never as bad as is perceived. I'm not a fan of the polarization that happens around these types of debates and very much believe a middle ground can be achieved."

A social experiment

During the height of both J2EE and anti-J2EE, David founded OpenEJB, an embedded EJB container project. Blevins prefers to counter "people [who] say X is impossible or sucks" not "by arguing with people, but by actually listening and changing what it is people don't like. It doesn't always mean people will come around, but I enjoy seeing how or if things change. In a lot of ways it's a social experiment."

His current project, TomEE, was taken up last week by the PaaS provider Jelastic as one of its many options. TomEE reflects Blevins' motivations:

With TomEE, we'd like to change the stale debate of what is or isn't Java EE, what you can and can't do with Tomcat, put and end to old arguments, and ultimately save people time and scratch an itch we don't think has ever been scratched. That is, "Do we use Tomcat or Java EE?"

TomEE is to a good degree an outgrowth of OpenEJB. In order to work on TomEE full time, Blevins recently left IBM, where he worked on Geronimo, the basis for IBM's WebSphereCE project. For the TomEE project, Blevins noted, "We have quite a large committer base due to the roots in OpenEJB which has been around for years. Of that there are about five or six active at any given time and who that is varies from month to month. It's largely volunteer-driven, so even with 20 or 30 committers it's a fairly focused number of people working to achieve something specific for periods of time." That's pretty good for a project of this type and a problem of that size.

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