Sun promises simpler Java toolbox

Company to tout Rave as Java for the masses

Sun Microsystems will chant an ease-of-use mantra at its JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco this week as it tries to drive the Java language and platform into the hands of a broader range of developers.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company plans to make over Java to include new development tools, a new open source community portal, and even a new logo as part of its push to widen Java's appeal as a departmental, Web services, and two-tiered application-development platform.

Sun's goal is to boost the size of its developer community from "three million to 10 million over the next two to three years," said Rich Green, vice president of developer platforms at Sun. 

To achieve that, Sun has begun work on a new developer tool, code-named Rave. Rave will be built on top of Sun's open source NetBeans development framework and will incorporate the JavaServer Faces standard for developing the user interfaces for Web-based applications.

The forthcoming Rave tool will also support a number of Java database connectivity and Web services standards currently under development, Green said. The software is designed to "allow, initially, the very rapid graphical construction of Web and Web services applications," he added.

Although Sun will demonstrate Rave this week at JavaOne, the developer tool is not expected to ship until 2004, according to Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk in Bath, Maine. A beta version is slated for this fall.

"It's something that's been a long time coming," O'Grady said, adding that complexity has been Java's boon and bane, appealing

to enterprise developers looking to solve difficult problems while hindering adoption among junior developers looking to write departmental applications.

"It was never designed to be a language that someone could just pick up and run with," O'Grady said. Rave is similar to BEA's WebLogic Workshop in that it will be designed for the "lower-level developer who is not a rocket scientist," O'Grady said.

But one developer said there is room for Java to attract more programmers.

"I think they realize that if they want Java to get bigger, they have to make it appeal to more people," said Java developer John Zukowski, president of JZ Ventures in Wayland, Mass. "If you pitch it to people who just need to create small things -- and they have the tools that allow them to do it -- it should be able to grow."

Sun has not yet decided what it will charge for Rave or, indeed, whether it will release the code under an open source license, Sun's Green said.

In a separate effort to broaden Java's appeal, Sun will also launch an open source development portal called Java.net that will serve as the repository for the company's future open source Java projects.

Initially, the portal will comprise a set of Web sites aimed at developers of desktop applications and Web services. It will also include a section called Coolcode.org, where Java's creator, James Gosling, will put "his own favorite code," according to Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, Sun's senior director of Java and strategic marketing.

According to Van Den Hoogen, Sun will release a variety of code on the site under a variety of open source licenses, including parts of Java's Swing user-interface libraries, implementations of its JAX-RPC Web services APIs, and a variety of Java gaming software. Sun will not move existing open source projects such as the Apache Tomcat servlet container to Java.net, but it will be the home of all new open source Java code from Sun.

The company will be lobbying heavily at JavaOne to encourage other contributors to also offer software via Java.net.

Oracle, Borland, and BEA Systems are expected to echo Sun's ease-of-use refrain.

Oracle will release a preview of its JDeveloper 9.0.5 development tool, which gives developers greater flexibility in defining the types of development tools they use to create software. By allowing developers to decide whether they want to use modeling tools, EJBs (Enterprise JavaBeans), or Web services standards, JDeveloper 9.0.5 "lets developers personalize development for how they want to work," said John Magee, vice president of Oracle9i marketing at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle.

Oracle will also release the Oracle Application Development Framework, which will allow developers to alter applications by editing XML metadata files, thereby simplifying the process.

Borland will introduce Borland Enterprise Studio 6 for Java and international versions of its CaliberRM and StarTeam application development tools.

BEA, which claims to be two years ahead of Sun in bringing ease-of-use to Java with its WebLogic Workshop development environment, will announce three major Workshop customer wins: Hewlett-Packard, Airnet Systems, and FedEx.

BEA agrees that ease-of-use is a priority for Java developers but doubts Sun's reliance on open source. "I think open source, of all the Java participants, is the least likely to solve the ease-of-use problem," said Carl Sjorgreen, WebLogic Workshop senior product manager at San Jose, Calif.-based BEA.

Others question Sun's ability to deliver on its ease-of-use promise, particularly given Java's history.

"Sun has had good success in hardware and system software but has not had equal success with user applications," said Jason Hunter, an independent Java and open source developer and an O'Reilly author on Java. "There is skepticism that that will change."

Sun is even changing Java's trademark coffee cup logo to give the platform broader appeal.

"The original logo was quite beautiful," said Van Den Hoogen, "but when we went out and did some brand research, it didn't convey the modern or the new ways of things. This new logo is consumer friendly."

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