Sun’s Keller: No plans to join Eclipse

Status quo remains, with company promoting NetBeans

Joe Keller is vice president of marketing for Java Web Services and Tools at Sun Microsystems, responsible for driving the company’s product direction in these areas. Previously, he was involved in the company’s iPlanet division, where he minded integration and commerce application technologies. Before joining Sun, he managed the sale of artificial intelligence products at Texas Instruments. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill spoke with Keller at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco last week about where Java is today and where it is headed, along with touching on the progress of Web services and ongoing questions about whether Sun might join the Eclipse Foundation.

InfoWorld: There was a lot of talk this morning about the NetBeans open source tools platform. I think it could be argued that NetBeans doesn’t really have the reception in the market that Eclipse does, although some would disagree with that. So where is NetBeans headed?

Keller: We’re going to continue to invest in NetBeans. We think there is room for choice in development tools and we’ll continue to drive that. We’ll continue to be, if you will, supportive of Java communities, like Eclipse and others. We support Java communities and will continue to do that. We think there is room for a development tool that provides functionality for those who are developing for all of the Java platforms and provides a set of good choices out there. So we’ll continue to invest in NetBeans and I think you saw a number of demonstrations of that technology supporting development of applications for the Java Micro Edition platform. Earlier in the week you saw continuing support for developers who are looking for an easy-to-develop tool set in Java Studio Creator. And you saw the movement forward [of] our enterprise developers in a number of different projects.

IW: Are there any discussions anymore about Sun joining Eclipse?

Keller: Not currently. It’s something that we went through and evaluated, but we decided that it wasn’t something that was appropriate for Sun to do and that we would continue investing in excellent tools.

IW: Is Java truly portable? Haven’t there been some extensions specific to particular vendors’ technologies?

Keller: Well, Java’s truly portable. And the notion of people building additional Java classes is part of every application that you do. It’s when people require those in a platform sense that they build a dependency that people have to be aware of. And the issue for most developers is not being aware of that dependency when they build on top of extra classes. That’s usually the issue for folks. That is a piece of information a developer needs to know when choosing to write to those extra classes.

IW: Last night I was at a presentation where there were audience members who were pretty frustrated with Web services and WSDL in particular. Do you think Web Services has been overhyped?

Keller: No, I don’t think it’s been overhyped. I think the challenge is it’s still early in Web services and building the interfaces for them. I think the frustration you’re hearing is we’re still learning how to build these interfaces, how to build them well, how to build the tooling for them, how to make them practical for applications. And it is why we build a set of technologies and deliver them in something called the Java Web Services Developer Pack, which [features] APIs and our Web-services support. Any developer can take and download [that for] use in their IDE and their application server and their Web server in their Java SE [Standard Edition] runtime, in their Java EE [Enterprise Edition] runtime to allow them to get access to the latest and greatest implementation of the Java APIs for doing Web services. One of the things we just put into the Developer Pack is an acceleration technology. One of the frustrations is people would like Web services transports to go faster. This version of the Developer Pack we shipped this week has a binary encoding capability that is based on standards from the ITU that allow us to encode a binary form of the communication and send that between nodes at a faster pace. Our benchmarks to date show anywhere from a 150 to 400 percent [increase]. And so that helps us address some of the frustrations that people see.

IW: Why should developers build Web services on Java rather than another platform, say, .NET?

Keller: I think people should build things in Java -- not just Web services, but all application types -- for its portability, its productivity and its, if you will, scalability of application. [Developers are] able to go from the smallest devices, like Java Cards and phones and DVDs, and have that same code be available and running on the larger devices, whether they are desktop computers or servers. It really does give you the kind of return on your investment as a developer. You’re investing your skills and I think the most productive and highest return is being able to apply those skills over the broadest range of deployments. I think that’s why people choose Java.

IW: Sun has open sourced a version of its application server as well as an enterprise service bus and Solaris. What else might be open sourced at Sun?

Keller: At this point those are the ones we’ve been able to get to the point where we know open source will help those communities. We’re still in the process of evaluating the rest of the Java Enterprise System stack and what might be next. We haven’t really decided yet. But what we look for is communities that can benefit from having source-code access. What we’re trying to enable is the ability of the developer to understand how to write better applications with that technology, of being able to base their research and innovations on our technology, of being able to have control over their deployments so that if they need to fix something based on time requirements, they have control. And ultimately there’s a group of developers we believe who want to actually contribute to the development of the underlying platforms. So that’s what we’ll use as a set of requirements to evaluate against each of the projects and when we find the right kind of technology that has that kind of requirements, that’s when we move them into open source.

IW: Would you say Sun is still primarily a hardware company, generating far more revenue selling servers and workstations than selling software?

Keller: Well, we don’t look at it that way. It’s not just the hardware. As you know, we’re a systems company, and the systems are made up of the hardware and the software. People think of us as a hardware company because we ship our software off inside of a piece of hardware to make that system. And so visually it looks like it’s hardware, but there are millions of lines of software that come with every Sun system that really make up the entire experience someone gets with our products. And it really is a systems-level company, a combination of software and hardware. That’s why we have more software engineers than hardware engineers. It’s why we have an extensive set of operating systems, middleware, software development tools, and capabilities for people that drive their business.

IW: What is your perspective on AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript plus XML) programming? Sun has talked a little bit about that this week with the Java Studio Creator tool.

Keller: Yes, it’s an interesting new style of programming we see. [It’s] sort of on the agenda of Web developers who are looking for richer experiences in a Web environment, and so AJAX programming is one that we demonstrated the capability going into our tools to make it easier. One of the things we found is the AJAX program is quite difficult if you have to do it without tooling, and so we’re investing in our Java Studio Creator product to make it much easier for people to build interactive, interesting applications for the Web.

IW: There’s been a lot of talk about Java’s 10th birthday, and it seems like there’s been talk about it for three months now. Where do you see Java in ten years?

Keller: Well, I think Java really is setting itself a springboard from its first 10 years of being able to harness a community of 4.5 million developers, of really delivering on the vision of running applications from smart cards to handheld devices to set-top devices to desktop devices to servers. I think what we’re going to see in the next 10 years is an explosion of the kinds of applications that will go through all walks of life, Both commercial and social, entertainment, and scientific types of applications will be enabled by Java, and [developers] really will deliver a proliferation of kind of services and applications that people will see day in and day out.

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