Oracle Poised To Shake Up J2EE IDE Sector

Last month, Oracle made headlines by joining the Eclipse Foundation and submitting new APIs to the Java Community Process. But don't think this means Oracle is getting out of the tools business -- quite the opposite, in fact. Oracle's Ted Farrell, the man behind these moves, tells Integration Developer News that the database giant intends to shake up today's J2EE app developer world.

Tags: Oracle, IDE, Eclipse, Developers, Farrell, JDeveloper, Support,

Oracle Corp. is looking to expand the nature of how IDE-enabled tools work together across multiple app server and database platforms -- whether they be Java, .NET, or enabled for web services or legacy database transaction processing.

But, in the process, Oracle also appears to be preparing to compete head-on with the two leading Java-driven IDE communities. In just the last few weeks, Oracle has made news in the IDE world with the launch of two initiatives:

  • First, Oracle has joined the board of Eclipse Foundation, providers of the Java-based Open Source IDE. As a voting member of the Eclipse Board of Stewards, Oracle will help create and define policies, standards and the collaboration environment for Eclipse, ensuring Eclipse developers can take advantage of the Oracle platform in the same way as developers using Oracle's own Java-based IDE.

  • Second, Oracle has submitted a proposal to the Java Community Process (JCP) to create a new "standard extension API" for IDEs. JSR 198 would enable developers to write Java tool extensions once that can seamlessly integrate with any other standards-based Java IDE. (Notably, the JSR API proposed by Oracle, while based on Java standards, differs from that now used by Eclipse.) JSR 198 proposes Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT) and Swing for creating graphical user interface (GUI) application components, while Eclipse supports the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT).

  • Oracle's Problem with Today's Open IDEs
    But Oracle's support of Eclipse and new standard APIs should not be misread as signals that Oracle intends to exit the tools and IDE business. Just the opposite, in fact, according to Ted Farrell, director of strategy at Oracle's application development tools division -- and the man who will sit on the Eclipse board.

    "We don't think there is one de facto application server in the market, or one de facto tool in the market. Us [Oracle] joining Eclipse doesn't necessarily mean that we support them as the de facto IDE or tool base," Farrell told Integration Developer News. "Our JSR proposal looks to set APIs as the standard for open IDE, so it should not be only NetBeans or only Eclipse. Our view is let's define the interface to the IDE [frameworks] and then have all vendors compete on implementation." Oracle intends to compete with Eclipse and NetBeans -- and other commercial IDEs -- on these end-to-end implementations, Farrell emphasized.

    Oracle's position, Farrell said, is based on a long-held frustration with the current inability of IDEs to deliver on an end-to-end seamless environment for developers. "The philosophy Oracle has is that a lot of companies are talking about end-to-end [IDEs], but they're not delivering on that," he said. In this assessment, Farrell included all major IDE providers and supporters of Eclipse, including IBM, Borland, Macromedia and Rational Software.

    "The user [developer] is aware when they have to switch from one tool to another, so it's not really end-to-end. Today, these 'integrated' tools are just a bunch of tools that are packaged together," he added. "A user using Eclipse might be looking for that pluggable architecture to tighten the integration between tools, but today they don't get that integrated flow between tools."

    In Farrell's view, there is one fundamental reason that this unified flow is so elusive: "Because each uses different processes and has different goals." Even Oracle's submission of a unifying API extension for IDEs may not be enough to resolve that underlying issue of different vendors with different views, he added.

    The real solution to this limitation, Farrell said, is that "source code needs to have tighter integration with source control and process management, including profile editors and debuggers." To get that, Farrell added, "We think they all have to come from one vendor." Of course, Farrell submits Oracle should be that vendor.

    "Oracle has taken a modular approach, rather than a collection of APIs." This approach, Farrell contends, will make it easier for the developer to go from tool to tool and support an end-to-end development process much easier than today's IDE plug-in approach.

    Oracle's "IDE Migration" Strategy
    With this context, Open Source developers might well ask whether Oracle is truly supporting Eclipse -- or looking to use Eclipse as a target audience for their Oracle 9i JDeveloper tools.
    Farrell doesn't deny Oracle's interest is acquainting Eclipse users with alternatives. "We're focused and committed to making Oracle 9i JDeveloper a leading IDE," Farrell told IDN. "We want to make JDeveloper competitive with Eclipse."

    He also wants to make sure that Oracle developers stay-at-home with their current Oracle toolkit. "This positioning [with Eclipse] is not for people using Oracle tools; it's to make it easier for people not now using JDeveloper tools to get acquainted with them," Farrell explained. Oracle also wants to make it much easier for Eclipse users to deploy applications with JDeveloper, he said.

    Why is Oracle so interested in tools?

    Farrell insists that Oracle does not intend to make tools a profit center. "Oracle isn't in the business of making money in tools; it's just not a sustainable business model. But, Farrell said, "we're seeing today that the application server decisions are closely tied to the availability of strong tools."

    Farrell estimates that some 25% of IDE users develop with Oracle's JDeveloper. "Two years ago, Oracle didn't even have a product set in the open IDE market or app server tool space, so we're growing and intend to continue." One reason for optimism, he added, is that JDeveloper is used by developers building to other J2EE platforms, including JBoss and BEA Systems' WebLogic.

    JDeveloper Beta Upgrade Available
    The timing of Oracle's open IDE initiatives comes as Oracle has revamped its development tools with support for the latest Java and Web services standards. Oracle9i's latest upgrade to JDeveloper (version 9.0.3) includes major web services features and support for J2EE 1.3 specs, as well as support for Open Source platforms and technologies, including Apache Ant, Jakarta Struts, JUnit and CVS.

    "We made a big jump with J2EE 1.3, and a lot of improvements come in our support for persistence" Farrell told IDN. "We also have the basis of J2EE Frameworks support, and we'll continue to evolve that to allow developers to get the benefits from J2EE services without the need to know everything about J2EE."

    Oracle said its JDeveloper 9.0.3 is more customizable than previous releases and that it lets developers configure the look and feel of the toolset. Developers can use the toolset to create business applications using J2EE or PL/SQL, Oracle's native database development language. The tools allow for the creation of applications using Java classes, database stored procedures or Enterprise JavaBeans. JDeveloper 9.0.3 also allows those applications to be released as web services.

    JDeveloper 9.0.3 also includes web services testing tools, including a packet monitor to debug messages sent by applications using the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP); the ability to find UDDI (Universal Description Discovery and Integration) directories; and interoperability support with Microsoft's .NET.

    An evaluation copy of the Oracle9i JDeveloper Version 9.0.3. toolset can be downloaded from the Oracle website. JDeveloper 9.0.3 costs $995 per named user.