Several leading Java tool vendors are building an organization to link their respective frameworks in an effort to offer an alternative to Microsoft Corp.s .Net framework and Visual Studio tools.
The group, to be called the Java Tools Community, was initiated by Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. and looks to create an interoperable Java ecosystem of tool frameworks based on open standards, according to the projects sources.
The Java Tools Community was to have launched in September, but it stalled as the nascent organization worked—and continues to work, sources said—to get more vendors on board. According to sources, BEA Systems Inc. and Compuware Corp. have signed on, and talks with SAP AG, Sybase Corp., SAS Institute Inc. and Telelogic AB are ongoing.
Sources said negotiations also continue with Java tools heavyweights Borland Software Corp. and IBM, whose memberships could make or break the effort. But so far, neither company has agreed to join.
Java has grown in popularity, but in the race to build Web services applications, Java tool vendors have had a hard time matching Microsofts market power.
"IDE [integrated development environment] tool interoperability is not an issue in a Microsoft environment," said Patrick Hegarty, a developer with Valmont Industries Inc., in Omaha, Neb. "Java is a great technology, but IDE interoperability is a must."
"The group is looking to tackle fragmentation in the Java market from the tools perspective, not the platform perspective," said a source at a company involved.
The Java Tools Community effort would start from JSR 198, a Java Specification Request of the Java Community Process known as "The Standard Extension API for Integrated Development Environments." It is aimed at establishing a common API for extending Java IDEs and would enable developers to write extensions to an API once and have that extension interoperate with any other Java tool that complies with the standard.
Sun officials would not comment officially on the effort, but Oracle spokeswoman Julie Geer-Brown said, "We dont have anything to say about this at this time," noting that the Redwood Shores, Calif., company is always open to talking to other companies about interoperability.
Although the Java Tools Community effort will go beyond JSR 198, the specification is key to driving compatibility across a broad set of development frameworks such as Suns NetBeans, Borlands OpenTools APIs and IBMs Eclipse, sources said.
Ted Farrell, an Oracle engineer who heads the JSR 198 effort, would not discuss the Java Tools Community, but he said the general Java tools community is looking to make it so that developers do not have to do as much work to support multiple platforms.
Farrell said that up to 50 percent or more of the code for building extensions to frameworks is common code. If the industry can overcome the hurdles in writing extensions, "it reduces the extension writers barrier to entry to run on various IDEs," he said.
IBM and Borland, however, have little to gain by joining such an effort, as both companies have thriving Java tools businesses. Sun, Oracle and BEA are playing catch-up.
Bill Pataky, director of Java product management at Borland, of Scotts Valley, Calif., said: "One of the best-kept secrets we have at Borland is the OpenTools APIs we have around JBuilder and C#. Theres an entire ecosystem thats organically grown around this framework—although Borland rarely promotes it."
George Paolini, vice president of Java technology at Borland, said: "The issue that is brewing in the industry right now is that there are multiple frameworks out there. You have Eclipse [and] youve got BEA off doing their own thing. We have our own, and weve done, I think, a bang-up job of building an ecosystem. Sun has theirs with NetBeans. Oracle has their own. So ours is without question the leader."
Despite all the development, a developer still cannot take a tool from one vendor and use it in another vendors IDE, Oracles Farrell said. The IBM-sponsored Eclipse project is an effort to support this through plug-ins, "but Eclipse wants everybody to run on the Eclipse platform. If all the vendors had the same core, it would restrict our ability to innovate," he said.
"A standard for Java IDE interoperability would be great," said Philip Brittan, a Java developer and chairman of Droplets Inc., of New York. "It would be great if the same plug-in worked with all IDEs."