December 4, 2003 11:36 AM PST

Sun plots push for open-source tools

Sun Microsystems laid out a plan on Thursday to bolster its Java tools and make them easier to link to other software.

The plan centers on the company's NetBeans project, an open-source effort to create software that allows several different Java development tools to snap together within a single programming application.

The announcement follows Sun's decision Wednesday to abandon its bid to join Eclipse, a rival open-source initiative to develop Java tools IBM is leading. The


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Santa Clara, Calif.-based company cited technical and organizational differences between the two groups as the basis for its decision.

Both the Eclipse and NetBeans projects are dedicated to creating links between software. For example, they both work to combine a source-code management tool from one provider with a code editor from another company.

Sun said a significant update of its NetBeans tools software, called NetBeans 4.0, is slated for release in the middle of next year. The update is a "radical overhaul" of the NetBeans interface and includes enhancements to make it easier to build Web and Web services applications, said Rich Green, vice president of the Software Developer Platforms Group at Sun.

NetBeans 4.0 will add "refactoring" technology that makes it easier to manage large coding projects, garnered from the research of James Gosling, the newly named chief technology officer of Sun's platforms group. The bundle will include a system for building applications based on Apache Ant and the Tomcat Java Web server. It will also support the latest specifications in the Java 2 Standard Edition, version 1.5.

Alongside the NetBeans revamp, Sun is looking at measures to improve the interoperability of code and third-party plug-in tools in different Java programming applications. At the moment, there are different systems for mixing and matching third-party development tools with software from NetBeans, from the IBM-backed Eclipse project and from companies such as Borland.

A standardization effort called the Java Specification Request 198 is working on a common plug-in system. Green said Sun hopes to expand that effort in order to make it easier for Java developers to move projects between different development applications.

"JSR 198 is focused on interoperability of plug-ins on the tools. I think we've got to do that and then raise the bar," Green said. "We have to ensure the interoperability of projects--the bodies of code--that developers work on, among the tools."

Before Sun releases the significant overhaul of NetBeans, it plans to issue a more immediate update, version 3.6, in the first quarter of next year. That update features a new interface and tools designed to help developers better navigate through source code.

 

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