January 6, 2004 3:20 PM PST

Java tools advocacy group stands up

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A group of 10 Java software companies announced on Tuesday the Java Tools Community, an initiative aimed at making Java tools easier to use and more productive for developers.

The group intends to push for better development tools and provide expertise within the existing Java standards structure, called the Java Community Process, according to the founding members. Now formed, the Java Tools Community (JTC) organization hopes to expand its membership to other software companies as well as customers. Initial customers involved in the JTC are Sprint and Verizon.

Better Java tools have been a long-standing goal for Java software companies, which are trying to ward off competition from Microsoft and its successful line of .Net tools.

Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, Oracle, SAP, SAS Institute, Compuware and JetBrains are among the founding members of the group. Notably absent are Java tools heavyweights IBM and Borland Software, both of which declined to join at this time.


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The members of the JTC saw a need to establish an adjunct organization to the Java Community Process (JCP) that focuses exclusively on development tools. The great majority of Java standards have focused on Java "run-times," or the software needed on machines to run Java programs, without enough consideration for application development.

"Our vision is to create awareness around tools, both in the industry--the other tool vendors--and in the expert groups of the JCP," said Ted Farrell, chief architect and director of strategy for Oracle's tools division. "We'd like to see representation across the board (in the JCP) for tools."

As previously reported, the JTC will seek more commonality among tools from different providers, which will help bring new Java products to market faster, according to JTC members.

Better coordination among Java providers will also address "mundane" problems around Java development and eliminate unnecessary engineering required in writing commercial Java software, said Michael Bechauf, vice president of NetWeaver standards at SAP.

The Java Tools Community is modeled around the involvement of telecommunications companies within the Java Community Process, said Joe Keller, Sun's vice president of marketing for Java Web services and tools. Representatives from the telecommunications industry have proposed advances to the Java standards in a concerted fashion, keeping track of different efforts to ensure coherence between new technologies, he said.

The JTC also expects to push for a common system for add-ons, or plug-ins, to popular Java integrated development environments (IDEs). By creating a standardized way for plug-ins to work with Java tools, developers will be able to mix and match a variety of tools from different providers. An initial plug-in standardization effort, called JSR 198, is already in development.

Other plug-in systems for existing Java tool "frameworks" already exist. IBM has based its entire development tool strategy around the Eclipse open-source tools effort. Borland, too, has hundreds of plug-ins for its Java tool framework.

Because the JTC has not succeeded in signing on these Java tools heavyweights, some analysts saw the new initiative as counter to the goals of the overall Java community.

"Every firm will look after their interests, but at some point, someone will have to step back and look at this situation strategically and ask, 'What does this continued fragmentation do for my business long-term?'" said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk.

Borland was involved in the early formation of the JTC but decided not to join the group at this time, although it may at some point in the future, said George Paolini, general manager of Borland's Java business unit.

"The JCP does a very good job of addressing technical issues related to the Java platform, but what it doesn't have is a really clear channel out into the market to see what the market is demanding," Paolini said. "We felt it was premature to launch (the JTC) until that structure is in place."

Java Tools Community members acknowledged that some of the procedural details around how the JTC and the Java Community Process will interact have not yet been worked out.

For its part, IBM will continue to focus on Eclipse as its preferred method for creating interoperability between development tools, said Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere infrastructure at IBM. Eclipse, which is in the process of becoming a consortium independent of IBM, has gained nearly 50 members over the past three years.

But Sutor dismissed the argument that the Eclipse and the JTC were causing an irreparable rift within the Java community.

"I think this notion of fracturing is significant overkill in terms of describing the situation here. Any time people have the slightly different view, someone says something is fracturing," said Sutor. "We're going to keep our nose down, work on Eclipse, work in the JCP and focus on our No. 1 competitor, which is Microsoft."

One Java developer lauded the creation of the JTC, while recognizing that working products from this organization will take some time to come to market.

"Overall, I think it's about time these tool vendors tried to cooperate better with each other to deliver benefits to the developers I care most about," said Rick Ross, founder of Javalobby.

 

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