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.
BEA Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., has already delivered a Java development platform, called BEA WebLogic Workshop, which the company is touting as a “VB killer” and promises will attract 1 million developers. CEO Alfred Chuang told eWeek this month that BEA has signed up about 750,000 developers in the first year of the program.
Suns work does not stop there. John Fowler, Suns CTO for software, said simplicity is a major focus for the company. “How do we drive simplicity?” he asked. “With Java, how do we have a single development language and development environment?”
To help create that simplicity, Sun this week at the Web Services Edge East conference in Boston will announce JSR (Java Specification Request) 208 for Java Business Integration.
“What were trying to do with JSR 208 is to extend J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] integration APIs so that you have a great environment for integrating specifications such as [Web Service Choreography Interface] and [Business Process Execution Language for Web Services],” Fowler said. “So what were really trying to do is move up the J2EE spec to really embrace choreography and business integration.”
Sun will highlight another JSR to help developers, JSR 175, called A Metadata Facility for the Java Programming Language, which will attack the Java complexity problem at the language level, Fowler said.
A JSR is the actual description of a proposed and final specification for the Java platform. Simple JSRs can take fewer than 10 months to pass through the JCP (Java Community Process), but some platform JSRs could take 18 months or more. Once a JSR has been approved by the JCP, it then becomes a part of the Java platform and ready for addition in vendor products—although some vendors add support for the JSRs in the proposed phase.
Additional reporting by Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Watch.
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