BEA Targeting Developers

WebLogic Workshop eases use of J2EE in constructing Web services.

BEA Systems Inc. is making a major push to convince developers that it is the place to create Java-based applications. At its user conference last week, BEA released its much-anticipated Java development environment, WebLogic Workshop, which had been code-named Cajun. BEA officials said WebLogic Workshop simplifies J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) development for the broad base of 9 million or so Java application developers, rather than for only the 2 million enterprise developers who deal with the nuts and bolts of application development.

Developers who have seen the BEA product said 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 WebLogic Workshop 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 the product gives "the VB-level developer [an] alternative to learning or transitioning to VB .Net."

BEA, of San Jose, Calif., said it hopes to seize on this opportunity.

"Fortunately, Microsoft did us a little favor in that they broke compatibility [with older VB applications] when they announced Visual Basic .Net," said Tod Nielsen, BEAs chief marketing officer. "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 vs. something new that hasnt been tried and true." Nielsen spent 12 years at Microsoft, leaving as a vice president in the Redmond, Wash., companys platform group, where he was responsible for launching the .Net strategy.

Analysts say BEA has a viable strategy. Dennis Gaughan, an analyst with Boston-based AMR Research Inc., said WebLogic Workshop is "an interesting technology directly targeted at loosening Microsofts stranglehold on corporate developers."

"The overall aim ... with Cajun is to build enterprise applications, not just simple ones," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "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 easily 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."

WebLogic Workshop is slated to be available in the spring after a 60-day beta.

BEA also announced a developer support program called Dev2dev. The company has about 350,000 developers now and hopes to boost that number to 1 million by the end of the year.

Rivals criticized BEA for being late to the game. "BEA is just getting out of the gate," said John Magee, director of product marketing for Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i Application Server, in Redwood Shores, Calif. "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."