Why Poor "Tool-ability" Is Hurting Java

A group of leading Java vendors, including Sun, Oracle and BEA, are making the case that Java tools have become too complex and too expensive to build. To help solve the problem, 10 leading Java tools vendors have formed a community to focus on improving Java's "tool-ability." IDN looks at the JTC efforts, why IBM and Borland aren't on-board and what others say about Java's Future.

Tags: Java, JTC, JCP, Community, Vendors, Standards, Design-time,

A group of leading Java vendors, including Sun, Oracle and BEA, are making the case that Java tools have become too complex and too expensive to build. To help solve the problem, 10 leading Java tools vendors have formed a community to focus on improving Java's "tool-ability."

The Java Tools Community initiative, founders say, is designed to be a "sister community" to the Java Community Process, not competition with the standards-keeping Java Community Process.

"JTC will directly interface with the JCP, and leverage the existing JCP infrastructure and rules for proposing JSRs," said Dave Cotter, BEA's director of developer marketing. Aside from BEA, other JTC founding members include Oracle, Sun, SAP, CompuWare, SAS, Embarcadero, JetBrains and Quest Software.

The JTC charter says its output will be "based upon making public recommendations, studies, opinions and JSR submissions through established and accepted processes of the JCP." The JTC is not a legal entity, will not hold IP, nor will it endeavor to develop code, TCKs, certification suites, nor standards of any type beyond activities related to the JCP. JTC Membership is free, and will include JCP participants, including Java vendors, as well as end-user developers/customers.

The JTC Agenda -- Unburdening Java?
Java innovation has burdened Java toolmakers with "three critical challenges," said Rich Main, director of Java development at SAS. Among them: a "deep learning curve," increased costs and complexity in tools, and delays in design time for tooling.

As a result, the JTC will focus on 3 major domains of work

  1. Maximizing the "tool-ability" of current and newly proposed JSRs. --By working closely with JSR leads and the tool and design community, that the JTC hopes to encourage Java APIs to be more tool and developer-friendly.

  2. Increasing interoperability of Java development tools and extensions -- The JTC aims to advance new design-time standards.

  3. Facilitating communication across the entire design-time community -- The JTC seeks better communication among tool vendors, customers and developers, especially in regard to getting information and making input on creating or extending design-time Java standards via the JCP.
JTC defines "tool-ability" as "the measurement of how easy it is to build tools around a particular standard or technology."

Over time, some results of JTC's work might include more common object models, better metadata specs and document handlers, and even common build systems, Main said.

Where Are the Big Guys?
Despite the JTC outreach to build a broad-based community, IBM and Borland are notably absent from the JTC at this time.

JTC execs downplayed the absence of these big guys. Asked about whether JTC can succeed without the two largest providers of Java tools, Ted Farrell, Oracle's chief architect for application development tools, said, "We're not necessarily as focused with the who as much as the how many. We currently have a great mix…to build the basis of what the JTC will be. People who aren't even members of the JCP -- the voice of the customer -- are also important. We expect more companies to come in as we flesh out the details."

In addition, JTC vendors want to downplay the novelty of the program. The JTC is not a new idea, said Sun's Joe Keller, vice president of web services and tools. It was modeled after a community of telco-specific vendors who faced their own complex concerns when trying to better devise and implement Java APIs and conform to JCP specs, he added.

But, just where are IBM and Borland on the JTC?

For its part, IBM has no intention of joining the JTC at the moment, and will mind its knitting in Eclipse and the JCP. Bob Sutor, IBM's director of WebSphere infrastructure, told CNET's news.com,"We're going to keep our nose down, work on Eclipse, work in the JCP and focus on our number one competitor, which is Microsoft."

Borland, even though the company had a hand in the early JTC discussions, has decided to sit out membership, at least for a while. Borland's George Paolini, vice president and general manager of Java Solutions, told InfoWorld. "It's still in the early days. There's still a lot of work to be done. The mechanics are not in place today. I want the JTC to push the JCP, but I want there to be a structure in place in which the JCP is accountable to the JTC and vice versa."

[On the topic of outreach to customers: the JTC effort comes as the JCP itself has written its own rules to open the process up to more customer/end user/developer input. JCP program manager Onno Kluyt said the JTC will "add value" to the JCP's work because it combin[es] the expertise of JCP members with the field experience of users." ]

Is It Java Politics -- or Technology -- Making Things Difficult?
Some Java watchers were concerned -- or perhaps confused is a better description -- by the absence of IBM and Borland.

The Meta Group's Thomas Murphy, in an interview with IT Newsfactor, said the JTC's focus is "good, because it's been a struggle to address how people can be productive developing Java."

But even Murphy's support for the move wasn't without reservation, as he asked a question shared by many other reporters and pundits since this week's announcement: "Why not just form a working group within the JCP? I think it's either kind of funny or sad to set up a separate community outside of the JCP -- it will be interesting to see what happens."

And non-JTC vendors offered their view of Java's challenges.

Tool vendor NCS Technologies Inc. says the current API-centric approach to Java standards brings its own complexities with it, and that the JTC should keep that a key focus.

Aner Perez, senior systems engineer at
As a result, Perez said, "tools are needed to make new APIs presentable to the general developer community. This puts Java's success in the hands of developer tool companies and how they keep up with emerging standards."

But Burke Cox, CEO of
JnetDirect, a provider of JDBC drivers and tools for helping devs make secure connections between Java apps and a variety of Java and non-Java databases, says the JTC may be missing something more basic.

"The real challenge to Java is Microsoft .NET and even the Open Source community," Cox told IDN. .Both Microsoft and a variety of Open Source providers are offering Java developers "more affordable and easy-to-use options for many projects, and both groups are making things easier and cheaper for many types of developers."

For example, Cox noted, "MSDN enables a developer to have full access to all Microsoft's key platforms, SQL Server, BizTalk, Exchange, all types of Windows, and C# for $2,000 a year. You can do anything you want -- and Open Source is coming up with more options all the time." Cox lists JBoss, Eclipse, NetBeans and new Apache work on its J2EE app server. "This is really changing how tools vendors need to think about what value they're bringing."

Cox is also concerned that Java standards are coming too slowly, and he blames the politics of today's Java standards-making process -- not just Java's complex technology.

"I can't say that the speed of new rules is a real problem for us. Look at it -- there was an 18-month gap between J2EE 1.3 and when they finally released the spec for [J2EE] 1.4," Cox told IDN. "and I'm still waiting for JDBC 4.0."

Even with a unified group like the JTC, Cox said that the unanimity among tools vendors won't last very long and may not benefit end user/developers all that much. "Even if there's a push by a large number of tools vendors, it won't last very long," he predicted. "It's a competitive marketplace out there, and every company is looking for a way to differentiate itself. So, even after they get in agreement on one [spec], they'll always be looking out for ways to differentiate themselves, or even to lock customers in."