When Cornelius Willis joined BEA Systems from Microsoft, his first move was to start figuring out how to open-source some of BEAs key developer technology in order to help make the companys tools framework a standard in the enterprise Java space, like Microsoft had done for Windows development.
BEA Systems Inc. saw the fruition of Willis plans Wednesday when the company announced Project Beehive, a strategy to turn over its WebLogic Workshop development framework to the open-source community.
“I started with BEA November 1, and I started working on this from the start,” said Willis, BEAs vice president of developer relations. Open-sourcing a portion of Workshop “was my first goal when I got here, and its what I spent my first hour working on,” he said.
Beyond the irony of a former Microsoft Corp. employee—who helped build Microsofts component model—becoming a proponent of open source, the BEA Beehive story is interesting in that it shows that BEA is willing to give up control of its development framework to draw more developers to its platform.
The irony is not lost, and that strategy is a risk to some. Marc Fleury, CEO at JBoss Inc., the Atlanta-based professional open-source company, said he believes BEAs motivation for moving to open source is misguided.
“People are going to open source as a desperate move,” Fleury said. “They see open source as a panacea, and its not. You cant make a dog into a winner,” he added, talking about the highly touted Workshop integrated development environment (IDE). “They said it was so great, and now they give it away because theyre not selling it.”
Responding to Fleurys claim, BEA chief technology officer Scott Dietzen said, “I cant imagine how donating technology is harming to any Java vendors business.”
As initially reported by eWEEK, BEA is turning over the Workshop framework to open source to accelerate adoption of the platform.
“The bottom line is that Beehive is designed to proliferate the platform,” Dietzen said. “Getting more of the Java community behind a framework will allow Java developers to better compete with Microsoft,” he said.
Dietzen touted Workshops ease-of-use capabilities and component-model programming as akin to Sybase Corp.s PowerBuilder and Microsofts Visual Basic, which makes the platform more attractive to a broader range of developers.
Moving the framework to the open-source community will standardize these ease-of-use features, the company said.
“The open-source community is a great way to drive ubiquity,” Dietzen said. “BEA is looking at open source as a way to get our technology into the hands of many developers” and broaden the market for BEAs WebLogic platform and its components.
Speeding SOA Adoption
In addition, Dietzen said open-sourcing Workshops framework will speed the adoption of service-oriented architectures (SOA). And Beehive will “dramatically increase the use of Java in the enterprise,” Willis said.
Dietzen said applications built using the Beehive framework can run on WebLogic along with non-BEA Java containers. “Beehive allows our customers to migrate a Tomcat application to a WebLogic container,” he said. “The first implementation BEA provides of Beehive will be targeted at Tomcat.”
Willis said BEA will maintain control of the Workshop IDE while turning over control of the Workshop framework—now called Beehive—to an open-source entity that has yet to be determined.
Willis said BEA is looking at creating its own open-source community or using SourceForge, FreshMeat or another open-source community organization to foster ongoing development of the framework.
In addition, Willis said companies such as Borland Software Corp., Compuware Corp. and Instantiations Inc. have offered to support the project, and Red Hat Inc. has offered to distribute the framework.
Instantiations and Borland are members of the open-source Eclipse Foundation, which oversees the Eclipse open-source development platform. Willis said Beehive, being a framework and not an IDE, is complementary to Eclipse.
“We would love it if there was a plug-in for Eclipse targeting Beehive,” Willis said.
“I think it is a good move, but like any move to open source right now, there is a thought toward how do you really make Java easier: Oracle [Corp.] with its framework, Sun [Microsystems Inc.] with Studio Creator, etc.,” said Thomas Murphy, an analyst with The META Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn.
“A big piece of Suns pitch is, We do this with all-standard Java, so BEAs move is to say, Well, it isnt proprietary, and look, we are addressing many other things.”
Murphy said he thinks the market will have a mixed reaction to the BEA news.
“First will be the idea of what good is it outside of the Workshop tool,” he said. “Some who just reject easier models anyway. Some who want more open source, etc.
“But I think that it is good from the move forward the conversation about metadata-driven AOP [aspect-oriented programming]. I think it is good for BEA customers to know they can look at this without being completely locked into BEA as a runtime, especially since you can do simple apps on Tomcat, and if you need to migrate up to or connect with EJB [Enterprise JavaBeans] apps on WebLogic, you can.”
Willis said Workshop follows the Microsoft model of using reusable components—called controls—to more easily and rapidly develop applications.
Willis, who was Microsofts product manager for Visual Basic from 1990 to 1995, said he expects to see a potent third-party component model crop up around Workshop like the one that grew around Visual Basic.
“We had 15 controls that first year with Visual Basic,” he said. “And in eight months, we have 50 controls for WebLogic Workshop. We are very excited about replicating that component library. Developers are always looking for help with things like code they dont have to write” if they can find a component that offers what they need, he said.