BEA Makes Play for Developers

BEA Systems Inc. opens its developer conference on Monday with a new tool, new application server technology and a message intended to woo more developers to its Java application server.

BEA Systems Inc. opens its developer conference on Monday with a new tool, new application server technology and a message intended to woo more developers to its Java application server.

At the conference in San Diego, BEA will officially announce and release to beta its much-anticipated Java development environment called WebLogic Work-shop—formerly code-named Cajun. BEA said the attraction of WebLogic Workshop is that it simplifies J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) development for the broad base of Java application developers, rather than only for enterprise developers that deal with the nuts and bolts of application development.

Tod Nielsen, BEAs chief marketing officer, estimated that there are about 2 million enterprise—or "hardcore"—programmers, and about 9 million application developers.

"These are your business logic writers, the application developers who make up the majority of the development in IT organizations," Nielsen said, adding that these people typically "use products like Visual Basic or COBOL or PowerBuilder. Java historically has not had an offering for the application developer."

Developers who have seen the BEA product say it is similar to Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic technology.

"BEA is trying to make it easier for developers to play in the Web services arena," said John Zukowski, an alpha user of the BEA technology and chief evangelist at Spidertop Inc., a Montreal-based Java presentation tools shop. "Instead of requiring a high-priced/high-end J2EE developer to do the work, theyve made development simpler so that someone without the skills can still do the same thing."

Zukowski said it gives "the VB-level developer" an "alternative to learning or transitioning to VB.Net."

BEA hopes to seize on this opportunity.

"Fortunately, Microsoft did us a little favor in that they broke compatibility [with older Visual Basic applications] when they announced Visual Basic .Net," Nielsen said. "VB .Net does not run any previous VB applications, so we say to all those developers, If youre going to learn something new, learn something thats on a solid, mission-critical, reliable platform like the WebLogic platform, versus something new that hasnt been tried and true."

Nielsen spent 12 years at Microsoft and left as a vice president in the Redmond, Wash., companys platform group, where he was responsible for launching the .Net strategy.

Analysts said BEA has a viable strategy.

Dennis Gaughan, an analyst with AMR Research Inc., said WebLogic Workshop is "an interesting technology directly targeted at loosening Microsofts stranglehold on corporate developers."

Mike Gilpin, vice president and research leader at Giga Information Group, said, "The overall aim … with Cajun is to build enterprise applications, not just simple ones. The stuff you can see in the parts of the overall solution that are visible in Cajun is focused on just Web services construction, integration and deployment, with a framework that makes that easy built underneath. As more of the framework is exposed through the tools as they mature and expand their scope, then the breadth of the framework for enterprise development will be more visible."

In addition to the new tool, which BEA CEO Alfred Chuang told reporters and analysts during a conference call would undergo about a 60-day beta before becoming generally available "some time this spring," BEA is announcing new developer support program called dev2dev, Nielsen said.

He said the company has about 350,000 developers now and is aiming at boosting that number to a million by the end of the year."

Gaughan, with AMR, said fostering BEAs developer community "is absolutely the goal for Cajun as I see it: to increase the adoption of their core infrastructure technologies by making it easier for developers to adopt."

Gigas Gilpin agreed, saying the new tool "will expand BEAs developer base, and will build greater loyalty than just having an app server where the developers use tools from Borland or WebGain or whomever. I think this will be not so much at the expense of other vendors, as it is an essential step to defend their position against other vendors with broader solutions already (like IBM and Oracle Corp.), as well as enabling J2EE to appeal to a broader audience."

Chuang said although BEA does not currently see Oracle often in competitive situations, he expects that to change. However, he said BEA measures well in comparison to IBMs WebSphere because it is an environment of "more than 100 different products," while BEA is moving to a unified architecture that offers total-cost-of-ownership benefits over IBM.

Competitors criticize BEA for being late to the game.

"BEA is just getting out of the gate in this," said John Magee, director of product marketing for Oracle 9iAS application server. "And they have no track record delivering tools. Their strategy to recruit developers is another recognition that BEA has identified a problem they have. Tools is one area where theyve made a huge strategic mistake in not doing anything sooner."

Magee said Oracle in December passed 2 million developers in its developer program.

Scott Cosby, manager of Web services marketing for IBM, said his company has more experience in delivering Web services solutions and more expertise in the Web services arena than BEA. He also dismissed BEAs claims that IBMs offering is "service-ware" that requires IBMs vast Global Services unit to support its implementations.

"We build software products that are world-class level. We dont build software products that are handicapped specifically to allow IGS to have a play there," Cosby said.

In addition to announcing the new tool and developer program, BEA will announce a new version of its application server, BEA WebLogic Server 7.0, and a unified system called WebLogic Platform 7.0. WebLogic Platform 7.0 features the WebLogic applications server and consolidates portal, security, integration, application development and deployment, and systems management into one integrated platform.