Java Tools Community seeks unity

Sun, BEA jump aboard JTC, while IBM and Borland are absent

Led by Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems, 11 software companies have launched the Java Tools Community (JTC) organization to promote the interoperability of Java-based tools and the advancement of Java technology.

Absent from the mix, however, are major Java backers IBM and Borland.

The JTC, which features members of the Java Community Process (JCP) organization, is touting the concept of "toolability," which the organization is defining as a measurement of how easy it is to build tools around a particular standard or technology. Through the work of the JTC, developers will be able to more easily use Java technology to build Java applications, thus increasing the rate of Java adoption, according to JTC officials.

"Really, if you look at the story of Java that's been going on so far, one of the struggles that developers have is really having a toolset that keeps up with the innovation that’s been going on in Java," said Rich Main, director of Java development environments at SAS, a JTC member.

The JTC will work to make standard Java technology APIs friendlier for tool development and will promote the adoption and advancement of JSRs (Java Specification Requests).

Initially, the JTC will begin deliberations in an online community fashion, but formal meetings also may be scheduled.

The JTC will seek to boost communications across the "design-time" community, allowing tools vendors, customers, and developers to access information and provide input when building or extending design-time standards via the JCP.

Other founding vendors include Compuware, Embarcadero Technologies, Iopsis Software, JetBrains, and Oracle.

JTC members stressed that the organization would complement the work of the Eclipse open source Java tools initiative, which has been led by IBM, rather than boost any fragmentation. Companies such as SAP participate in both the JTC and Eclipse, JTC members noted.

Sun's Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java, Web services, and tools, believes the JTC will serve to unite the Java community.

"I think [JTC] unifies the Java community in ways that haven't been possible without an organization like this," Keller said. Efforts by Java vendors to attract developers from the lucrative Microsoft Visual Studio development base also would benefit from the JTC, according to Keller.

Eclipse and JTC serve different purposes, JTC members pointed out. Whereas JTC is focused on Java standards, Eclipse is about building an open source toolset, Keller said.

Sun lobbied IBM about supporting the JTC, but IBM officials declined the offer believing that Eclipse, with 56 companies now on its board of stewards, already has the necessary momentum to compete effectively against Visual Studio.

"We think Eclipse has a tremendous amount of momentum. We do not see a lot of obstacles standing in [Eclipse's] way," said Bob Sutor, IBM's director of WebSphere software. "Frankly, we are more focused on working against our No. 1 competitor, Microsoft. We see it boiling down to more of an Eclipse-based IDE [integrated development environment] world vs. Visual Studio," he said.

Sutor also said he does not believe there will be much self-destructive competition between the Eclipse and JTC camps. He is confident both sides will work to make it clear that each will serve to complement the other.

Borland executives said they have been involved in the group since September but feel this is not the appropriate time to launch it.

"It's still in the early days. There's still a lot of work to be done," said George Paolini, vice president and general manager of Java solutions at Borland.

Paolini said that Borland would consider joining in the future if the group solidifies its road map and direction.

Tom Sullivan contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.