June 9, 2003 9:00 PM PDT

Sun tools aimed at Microsoft coders

Sun Microsystems will describe on Wednesday new software designed to make its Java programming tools more popular with smaller businesses.

With "Rave," Sun is trying to match the speed with which programmers can use Microsoft tools such as Visual Studio.Net to create comparatively simple programs for servers, said Rich Green, Sun's vice president of developer platforms. The first version of the software should go on sale in the first half of 2004, he said.

Java has been good for high-powered server applications, but the company realizes it has to catch up to Microsoft when it comes to simpler programs created in smaller companies or at the periphery of larger companies. These "two-tier" server programs are often used to create a Web page on the fly based on information drawn from a separate database server.

As expected, Green will demonstrate the new tool Wednesday at the JavaOne trade show in San Francisco. At the show, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based server seller also plans to tout its new Java brand and marketing campaign as well as technology improvements for mobile computing devices such as cell phones.

Java, a programming language and accompanying software to run programs written in the language, is one of Sun's most important efforts to keep Microsoft at bay. Although Sun has had limited success convincing programmers they should use Java for desktop computer programs such as word processors, the language has proven successful on servers and, more recently, on cell phones.

But Java programmers have been urging Sun to match Microsoft's programming tools, said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president for software. Those programmers "have been pushing us to drive a level of ease-of-use and productivity that, to be blunt, Microsoft set the bar with, with Visual Studio," he said.

Rave will overcome that weakness, Green promised. Its simpler interface is designed to let developers assemble programs more by pointing and clicking rather than writing numerous individual lines of code.

"I think the Sun developer tools organization is turning around very quickly," Green said.

To improve its developer tools in the past, Sun has had to acquire outside companies such as Forte Software and NetBeans. But Sun isn't afraid of raising expectations with Rave: Schwartz called the technology "the most significant thing we're announcing next week."

Microsoft believes it will be able to hold its edge, said John Montgomery, Microsoft's developer platform and evangelism director. "Microsoft Visual Studio .Net has several productivity advantages over Java across all kinds of applications, not just Web applications," he said. Specifically, Microsoft's .Net tool accepts programs written with multiple programming languages, makes it easier to handle components such as Web pages or buttons on a page, and provides simple ways to take advantage of a computer's underlying resources, he said.

The first version of Rave will be in widespread tests in the fall, Green said. "We'll work with developers to decide when the release date will be, based on their feedback, but we expect the first half of 2004," Green said.

Two more phases are planned for Rave, Green said: one that allows for expansion so software can include desktop computers as well as Web servers and database servers, and another that extends to mobile devices such as cell phones.

Rave has two key design requirements, Green said. First, the software Rave produces mustn't depend on any proprietary extra software modules. Second, the software must be standard Java, so that it will run on standard Java infrastructure, such as IBM's WebSphere or BEA's Weblogic.

Using standard Java will mean companies will be able to take a small application written with Rave and add high-level features with more sophisticated developer tools, Green said.

 

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