Sun still pondering Eclipse participation

Company also provides NetBeans road map

Despite recently rejecting an invitation to participate in the IBM-led Eclipse open source Java tools initiative, Sun Microsystems may still join the organization, Sun officials said on Wednesday.

The company, during a press presentation at Sun offices in San Francisco, also presented a road map for the NetBeans open source tools program, which is often seen as a competitor to Eclipse.

"Our involvement with Eclipse, should it happen, would really be around tools standardization," said James Gosling, Sun CTO in the company's Java tools and development group.

"Exactly what form it would take, who knows? But it certainly would not be [to] throw away NetBeans and join Eclipse," Gosling added. Discussions are still being held pertaining to participating in Eclipse, a Sun representative said.

Saying it was not offered "an equitable share in mutual development," Sun dropped out of negotiations to join Eclipse, according to a Sun statement released in early-December. The company had hoped to merge the NetBeans and Eclipse initiatives, both of which feature open source IDEs.

An IBM official in an e-mail response to questions Wednesday said the company would welcome Sun to Eclipse.

"We welcome Sun or any other vendor, for that fact, who is committed to providing customers with the most open development platform to join," said Michael Loughran, a representative for autonomic computing and technology development in the IBM Software Group.

Featured during Sun's NetBeans presentation were vendors such as Compuware and telecommunications services vendor OpenWave Systems, stressing how they benefit from using NetBeans.

"The sum of all, or the bottom line for us, is developers are the lynchpin to our success," said Rick Levenson, director of technology at OpenWave. "NetBeans, both the technology as well as the NetBeans community, really is what enables us at OpenWave to enable the developers."

A road map was presented for NetBeans. Version 3.6 of the NetBeans IDE, due in late-March, is to feature a look and feel that will make NetBeans look native on platforms such as Windows, said Steve Wilson, NetBeans engineering director.

The redesigned UI also will improve workflow between functions such as code editing, debugging, and GUI-building.

Support for Java 2 Enterprise Edition 1.4 is being added in Version 3.6, specifically support for the latest versions of Java Server Pages (JSP) and Servlets. JSP editing and debugging will be highlighted as well.

Also featured in Version 3.6 is code-folding, for displaying different blocks of source code.

NetBeans 4.0, due in the third quarter of this year, features automated re-factoring, for renaming of methods, fields, and transformations in code. Smart coding in Version 4.0 allows for quick editing. Build and project management also will be featured.

Version 4.0 is to include support for the latest Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition 1.5 variant, known as the "Tiger" release. Tiger features monitoring and management improvements.

Additionally, language features as generics will be supported in code editing in Version 4.0 of NetBeans.

"This [version] represents a major leap in the NetBeans IDE and platform, probably some of the biggest changes since we acquired the [NetBeans] company back in 2000," Wilson said.

Sun last week led the formation of the Java Tools Community, which intends to boost interoperability between Java tools. Although IBM is not participating in JTC, other Eclipse members, such as SAP, are members of both outfits.

IBM's Loughran said Big Blue, while supporting JTC goals of boosting Java tools APIs, believes this work should instead be done through the Java Community Process (JCP). 

"The challenge with adding JTC to the existing 'alphabet soup' of organizations and processes is that it adds fodder to existing client confusion," Loughran said.

Gosling said he expects the first deliverable from the JTC, APIs to boost interoperability between Java IDEs, in approximately a year. Other areas of focus for JTC are expected to include interoperability for metadata as well as for deployments of application servers and cell phones.

Remote debugging and performance profiling also are likely to be agenda items, according to Gosling.

Java Specification Requests, which are proposals for standardizing technologies within the JCP, already have been put forth for issues such as tools interoperability, Gosling noted. The JTC is expected to continue work on JSRs.

Despite the apparent need for unity and standardization in the Java world, Gosling stressed that having multiple vendors work separately on Java technologies and then having to discuss interoperability later is better than the one-vendor approach in Microsoft development.

"What happens in the Microsoft area is they just go with the first idea that pops in their heads. What happens in the Java world is sort of much more Darwinian," Gosling said.

Microsoft officials, Gosling contended, do not debate what is a good idea and what is not.

"In the Java world, at the end of the day you end up with much better standards with much better technology," Gosling said. "It just takes a little longer."

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.