Development Tools Deliver a Key App Server Edge

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java compatibility testing programs have done much to level the Java application server playing field.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java compatibility testing programs have done much to level the Java application server playing field. The standards are always moving forward, and keeping up is important, but Java 2 Enterprise Edition certification isnt given on a sliding scale—products either pass the compatibility test suite or they dont.

As a result, application server vendors are looking further afield for competitive differentiation. An increasingly important way to stand out from the crowd is shrewd and skillful alignment of servers with development tool sets.

This is a new strategy for application server leader BEA Systems Inc., but its upcoming WebLogic Workshop is impressive, as is Macromedia Inc.s Dreamweaver MX.

However, this has been a rocky road for some. Apple Computer Inc.s WebObjects, one of the earliest Web application servers, made a name for itself primarily because of its slick integrated development environment and object-oriented libraries. So did SilverStream Software Inc., with the tools it included with its SilverStream application server.

Apples and SilverStreams server products have since faded in prominence, with both companies recognizing their strengths and providing customers with the option of buying just the development tools and using them with other application servers.

Some application server companies have built tools simply because no one else would. The now-defunct NetDynamics Inc. did so, as did Netscape Communications Corp. when it bought Kiva Software Corp.s Kiva Application Server (which was renamed iPlanet Application Server).

These development tools were sorrowful efforts, with a bare minimum of features and Frankenstein interfaces, usually built with Java when Java was about as good as Motif was for building graphical applications (not very).

Both these tools were quietly thrown away when the Sun-Netscape Alliance (which, by then, owned both NetDynamics and iPlanet application servers) bought the Czech company NetBeans and its already successful NetBeans Java development tool. NetBeans has since become the foundation of Suns current Forte for Java application server tools strategy.

IBMs early application development tools were at this same low level of sophistication, although IBM has chosen to stay the course and has steadily polished its own offerings to the current 4.1 revisions of WebSpheres development tools.

IBMs offerings still dont match the usability of high-volume platforms such as Microsoft Corp.s Visual Studio, but they do lower the barrier to entry for WebSphere development and allow IBM to build tools that cater to the companys strengths.

For example, WebSphere Studio Application Developer Integration Edition 4.1, which started shipping in March, enables developers to build new Web services by visually connecting a series of Web services and using transformation tools to modify XML data between steps as needed.

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