Sun Brewing Simpler Java

The goal: to make it easier for developers to create applications and add business processes with Java.

In a move designed to attract more developers to its vision of Web services and application development, Sun Microsystems Inc. is developing enhancements to the Java language that provide a more Visual Basic-like experience.

The goal will crystallize in June at the companys JavaOne conference with the likely announcement of a Java-based tool that competes with Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic. The goal is to make it easier for developers to create applications and add business processes with Java, Sun officials in Santa Clara, Calif., said.

It is also a shot at Microsoft, which enjoys a large and loyal following of developers due to the Redmond, Wash., companys easy-to-use tools for building applications in the .Net environment.

Research company Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn., reports that there are about 1.5 to 2 million full-time professional Java developers today versus 3 million Visual Basic developers.

"All of our tools today ship on Windows, Linux and Solaris," said Rich Green, vice president of Java software development at Sun. "We think we should go where the developers are sitting. By midyear at JavaOne, we will have a new set of tools targeting these platforms. We are working on tools that the historic visual developers will find very attractive. They will be all written in Java.

"Microsoft is finding that going from the desktop paradigm [of Visual Basic] to the network paradigm is not trivial," Green said. "Java only ever handled network computing. We will be evolving our Studio product line by midyear—at JavaOne."

Some developers are skeptical of Suns ability to deliver a Visual Basic-type tool, as much as they would like to see it.

"Its technically possible, but I dont think its something well see any time soon," said Jon Rauschenberger, director of technology at Clarity Consulting Inc., in Chicago. "Its a tough market to crack, and Microsoft owns it. And a lot of the hard-core Java developers dont want a [rapid application development] tool. Theres also a very high cost in building these tools."

Stephen Forte, chief technology officer of New York-based Corzen Inc., said a Java-based Visual Basic-like tool "would help" because the Java-based Swing user interface tool kit "is really hard to use and turns off many Java developers" from writing applications with the look and feel of Windows—which is Swings purpose.