June 27, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Sun faces open-source swarm

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level than you could in the past," said Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java Web services and tools. "The community models are much richer."

Sun has said it intends to open-source its entire Java server suite, Java Enterprise System. Keller said the company will evaluate the appropriateness of the open-source model with each product.

But as established Java providers, such as Sun, IBM and BEA, try to embrace open-source development, a great deal of activity is already well under way.

"I think we're going to be the player in Web services."
--Scott McNealy, CEO, Sun Microsystems

Open-source Java developer products include everything from integrated development environments (IDE) to "frameworks," or tool add-ons that speed up programming for Java applications. Vendors of all stripes are trying to tap into the appeal of open-source development processes, which allow programmers to download software for free and inspect the code.

Many developers are also looking at alternative languages altogether, including scripting languages and open-source combinations such as the so-called LAMP stack .

Oracle's vice president of product marketing for application server and developer tools, Rick Schultz, said that there is a clear desire among developers for free tooling. And the open-source development process has proven effective for quickly creating products based on standards defined in the Java Community Process (JCP).

"We're supportive of the JCP as a body for proposing and standardizing APIs (application programming interfaces) that make their way into Java platform. At the same time, free technologies and open-source projects can still innovate in parallel to it," Schultz said.

BEA's decision to support Apache's Struts and Spring?two frameworks to ease development of server-side Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) applications?is because they have become de facto standards, said Mark Carges, the chief technology officer of BEA.

The company expects that developers will use open-source development frameworks and application servers during the development process, but choose BEA's WebLogic application server for large-scale deployments, which demand more robust features and management tools, Carges said.

"We're finding that outside the JCP, specifically in open source, there has been a tremendous amount of innovations around these frameworks and clearly developers are using them," said Carges. "Things are moving beyond just J2EE."

Many open-source products commonly used in the marketplace are influencing the JCP, such as the Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 specification, which is nearing completion, noted Carges.

Can Sun harness open source?
Among some people, the efficacy of open-source projects has amplified long-standing complaints that the JCP is not nimble enough to outpace Microsoft's development efforts and bring enhancements to the market quickly.

"Sun is losing momentum. They have been in the driver's seat. Because of the slow (JCP) process, people are frustrated," said Fima Katz, president and CEO of Exadel, which sells tools and services for Java open-source products. "It's not the only reason, but it's because open source can deliver faster and better."

Sun's increasing focus on software sales is putting the company at odds with other Java vendors that help drive standards, noted Yankee's Gardner. "Just a few years ago, they were a hardware company."

In terms of revenue, Sun's own Java software business still lags behind those of market leaders, IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle, according to market researchers. Sun's strategy to provide standards-based, low-cost Java server software suites also faces competition from open-source products already in the market and popular with developers.

Sun's strategy is to appeal to developers with low-cost, standards-based Java middleware and tools in the hope that those programmers' choices will lead to purchases of JES suite for building Web services applications.

"I think we have a good chance of breaking through a half a million subscribers with our Web services stack at some very unique pricing models. I think we're going to be the player in Web services," said Sun CEO Scott McNealy.

JBoss president and CEO Marc Fleury said that companies need a large number, or "critical mass," of developers and customers to be profitable with an open-source business model. "When every body starts talking about open source, it starts smelling of desperation," he said.

Still, Sun's software picture is improving, although the company's fortunes are largely tied to its servers, said Mark Stahlman, an analyst at Caris and Company.

"There have been a steady increase of software-only deals and so I think with the Solaris 10 rollout this spring, in combination with steady improvements quarter by quarter in software, they're definitely on the right track," Stahlman said.

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