Sun Gets Aggressive on J2EE Front with App Server, IDE

In the wake of the SunNetworks 2002 event, Sun Microsystems software engineers are putting final touches on a multi-platform version of their Sun ONE application server (formerly iPlanet). Downloads for Linux, Windows and Solaris (on SPARC) will be available in beta this week, with versions for Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX and IBM's AIX available in 90 days. Sun also wants to improve their IDEs -- both commercial Sun ONE Studio (formerly Forte) and the Open Source NetBeans toolset -- to make it easier for non-J2EE developers to get up to speed with app server development. See the roadmap.

Tags: Sun, Developers, App Server, Herring, Java, Features, Open Source,

In the wake of the SunNetworks 2002 event, Sun Microsystems software engineers are putting final touches on a multi-platform version of their Sun ONE application server (formerly iPlanet).

While the work may have been overshadowed by talk of Sun's Linux desktop, downloads of the Sun ONE Platform Edition -- as Sun's app server is now called -- for Linux, Windows and Solaris (on SPARC or Intel) will be available in beta this week, Mark Herring, Sun's director of Java, web services and tools businesses told Integration Developer News in an exclusive interview during the show. Versions for Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX and IBM's AIX available in 90 days.

Sun also wants to make their Sun ONE Studio (formerly Forte) IDE multi-platform, Herring told, as well as improve both the commercial and the Open Source (NetBeans) toolset -- to make it easier for non-J2EE developers to get up to speed with application server development.

Sun ONE Studio will run across multiple application servers. Herring said that aside from Sun ONE application server, the IDE will support BEA Weblogic and the Oracle application server. "You need to purchase those app servers from them, of course, but the Sun ONE Studio tools will be using J2EE abstractions that will allow developers to build applications and EJBs for those platforms," Herring said.

In the bargain, however, Sun's efforts may also create pockets of division -- and not unity -- among the army of Java developers looking for the "Next Big Thing.."

Sun Re-Orienting on Software
All these efforts to build better traction among the Java developer community comes as Sun continues to reorganize its software-related units -- including the app servers, IDEs and Solaris groups. Herring said one of the next phases for Sun to provide developers a "one-stop developer shop," which will bring all these areas together and roll them into a single point of entry for developers -- both for on-line access as well as when working with sales and/or service representatives.

"The Sun web site network is hard to navigate," Herring conceded. "There are just too many ways to enter and even if a developer gets in I'm sure he's asking 'Well, now what should I sign up for?'" Herring said Sun wants to simplify the experience by providing developers a single Sun ONE developer site that will in turn ask developers to set preferences based on the technologies they use, their skill level and the types of projects they are working on.

"You'll sign up in one place, but by your preferences, you'll get access to different materials and messages." Herring voiced some frustration that some Sun software assets -- such as JXTA and Jini -- haven't been tied in tightly enough with the rest of the Sun software community, for example.

Developers can get a glimpse of the integrated stack Sun ONE architecture at Sun's new Sun ONE developer website also unveiled this week.

The "Java Wars" Over App Servers; IDEs
Despite the push for more attention to software, Sun CEO Scott McNealy gave a strong insight into Sun's emerging software strategy during this week's SunNetworks 2002 event. When asked how he expects Sun to make money by giving away core products, such as the Sun ONE application server, he simply replied, "We'll sell them servers!" The comment raised some concerns that Sun's software strategy may simply be a set-the-table-for hardware strategy.

Execs admit the Sun detailed feature roadmap remains a bit vague, but Herring and others insist it is Sun's intent to provide developers details, features and enhancements over the next six months that are designed to get them to re-think their app server strategies -- and hopefully stem the app server momentum built up by IBM and BEA Systems. Even the arrest of any momentum Open Source JBoss app sever group may be enjoying is a target.

For example, when McNealy was asked if Sun's software push was a war against Microsoft and .NET. McNealy's response was: "This is a J2EE versus J2EE decision. This not a Java versus .NET decision." McNealy added: "There are no BEA or Websphere developers. If you think that way, you've made a mistake. You want to run J2EE" not a company's implementation.

McNealy added: "Our position is that IBM and BEA think the app server is an industry, and our position is that the app server is a feature -- not an industry by itself." He went onto mention that IBM Websphere users are paying more than $50,000 per CPU for their Websphere license, even though they are running Websphere on Solaris. He added, "We think that if they can get an app server for free with Solaris, that's a lot of value that can be saved, or re-apportioned to servers."

Herring expanded on McNealy's line of reasoning this way: "Sun looks at the app server as a feature of the operating system, not a product," Herring said. "It's like with screen savers. It used to be you would download your own, but now it's just a base thing in the operating system. In a similar way," Herring added, "the app server is a set of features and functionalities."

As for Open Source, the release of a multi-platform Sun ONE's Platform Edition, which will be free and JCP (Java Community Process) certified, puts into context Sun's feeling toward the JBoss Open Source J2EE application server. Earlier this summer, McNealy in an interview said the Java developers looking for an Open Source J2EE application sever would no longer need JBoss because they had Sun ONE. See story here.

While Herring said Sun's intent is to make Sun ONE free for many platforms, he demurred from stating that developers would have "Open Source" access to the underlying Sun ONE app server code. The Sun ONE Platform Edition will run on developers running their current Solaris 8 on Intel platforms.

The Story on IDEs
Meanwhile, Sun will continue two-pronged approach to IDEs, with a few refinements.

NetBeans will continue to be an Open Source initiative, Herring said, but it will also be an type of incubator for future services and features that Sun might later want to bundle into its Sun ONE Studio commercial IDE. "Eclipse and NetBeans are very competitive, and as Open Source initiatives both have their strengths and weaknesses," he said.

"Eclipse, for instance, uses SWT proprietary windowing which is not 'pure Java' while NetBeans is and will be a pure Java play," Herring said. NetBeans, for its part, is lacking a UML modeling tool, he said, but quickly added that Sun is partnering with Embarcadero to add their UML modeling technologies to NetBeans.

The work with Embarcadero may set a model for Sun ONE Studio moving forward. "We're looking to continue to open the envelop on the tool side to other third parties, adding and integrating where we need to," Herring said. "We don't want to go back to the old world of IDEs where every feature was hard-coded, but we need to do a better job of integrating tools and features that developers want."

In the next 3-6 months, Herring said, Sun will also have some other tool enhancements that will help Java developers not familiar with all the complexity of J2EE to build app server-based code. While Herring would not be specific, he did say that Sun has recognized that developers "don't want to know all about building an EJB or are not happy with some of the [EJB] pricing." So, the Sun ONE Platform Edition will be able to do JSPs as part of the platform, and in the future the toolkits will more features in that kind of development.

So, What About Solaris?
Lost in all the talk about app servers and IDEs is Sun's core Solaris software community. We asked Herring about the future of Solaris 9 -- especially for Intel.

"You can get the OS to work on x86 architectures, but all the device drivers, sound cards and other things that need to be certified we just couldn't keep up with," Herring told IDN. "Realistically, we just have to say we can't do all that to make a generic Solaris available for Intel, so we've come up with specialized boxes for Solaris on Intel and those are the 'Big Bear' platforms," he said. Earlier this month, Solaris on Intel users cried out for an upgrade option that would let them use their current hardware -- without having to move to a new LX 50 piece of hardware.