May 22, 2003 11:53 AM PDT

Sun tool targets Microsoft

Sun Microsystems will show off a new, simplified Java development tool next month intended to steal programmers from rival Microsoft's camp.

Executives from Sun said Wednesday that the tool will be geared toward developers who are proficient with the Java language but are not trained in the most advanced capabilities in the Java specifications. As previously reported, Sun officials have said this simpler Java tool will be displayed at the company's JavaOne conference in San Francisco next month, in part to garner feedback from Java developers.

Sun's Java is employed in a broad range of applications, including complex systems such as financial programs that demand fast performance or e-commerce setups that deal with a high volume of data. The new tool will be appropriate for building relatively simple applications, such as those that might serve a single company department, executives said.

At JavaOne, Sun will also highlight changes to the Java specification itself that are aimed at easing programming. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company and its customers will use the venue to discuss the use of Java in mobile applications and to announce extensions to its developer relations programs, including its open-source NetBeans tools initiative, according to Sun executives.

Sun's quest to simplify Java development is important to expanding the population of programmers that use Java to build custom applications, according to analysts. By making Java more "approachable" to a larger group of programmers, Sun and others can drive sales of Java-based products, such as portal applications or integration software, analysts said.

Simplifying Java is also a key element in deflecting developers from Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net line of tools. Sun, along with IBM, Oracle, BEA Systems and other software makers, sells products that are based on Java and the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification, while Microsoft promotes its .Net tools and software.

Programmers who are versed in the J2EE specification can build more sophisticated applications. But professionals trained in the latest Java specs, particularly J2EE, can be expensive to employ or difficult to find.

Sun executives said that, until now, Sun and other Java-tools companies have not adequately addressed the large contingent of people who are comfortable with Microsoft's Visual Basic tool. Visual Basic, which is used by an estimated 3 million developers worldwide, is regularly used to build applications that need to be constructed rapidly and do not involve a great deal of complexity.

The tool that Sun will demonstrate at JavaOne is aimed at developers who have a skill level equivalent to that needed to use Visual Basic tools, said Rich Green, vice president of tools at Sun. It will include a more visual development method and have an appropriate design for working with Web services, or modular application components that adhere to a set of XML-based standards, he said.

"Going forward, we plan to ensure that, for the masses, Java can be viable--or more so than any other programming environment," said Green.

The easier Java tool is also designed to work in conjunction with Sun ONE Studio, which is targeted at more highly skilled developers. Green said developers who use Sun's simpler tool and Sun ONE Studio can transfer Java code between the two tools.

Sun may have an opportunity in targeting the Visual Basic developers, according to a recent report. Evans Data last month released the results of a survey that found that 43 percent of Visual Basic developers were considering alternatives, including Java, for future projects.

But Sun does face competition from other Java-tools companies. IBM's Rational division this week introduced a Java-based tool targeted at easing J2EE application development. Borland is building a suite of Java development tools that spans the development process, from upfront design to testing.

In tandem with tool enhancements, Sun's Green said that over the next six to 12 months, Sun and other Java companies will be adding improvements to the Java specifications that will speed up development.

The planned features for Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE), for example, are focused on ease of development, better performance and Web services. This update to the Java specification, code-named Tiger, is set for release some time this year.

 

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