In a speech at the start of BEA's annual developer conference in San Diego, California, chairman and chief executive officer Alfred Chuang positioned the product as a radical shift in the way programmers work and one that will "revolutionise the way we think about Java".
The new framework, known previously by its code name Cajun, uses visual modelling tools that allow programmers with minimal Java training to create Java-based Web services that link disparate business applications together, he said. The products are intended to boost the productivity of developers and reduce the time that it takes to bring new applications to market.
"Our competitors have been developing tools for Java. But they have done nothing more than take difficult-to-use technologies, expose some APIs and simplify it with wizards," Chuang said. "That is not Cajun."
"We can't produce the kind of productivity we need if everyone speaks a different language," he continued. "We have to have a single platform that transcends all these environments and lets everyone work in a unified way. That is Cajun."
A beta version of the tools has been released to developers and the final product is due to ship by mid-year, he said.
The idea of Web services has been so overhyped that some people are starting to think of it as the new Java, he said. The reality is less dramatic but important nevertheless. Web services are "a set of technologies that allow enterprise applications to go to a common point to integrate," he said.
Workshop is more than a set of development tools, according to Chuang. Rather, it is a new framework that will eventually be able to incorporate development tools from third-party vendors. In each case, the developers who are not experts in Java will be able to work in the same development environment and make use of code written by experienced Java developers.
"It's easy to see a demonstration like this and think: 'BEA's gone into the tools business and built a series of ease-of-use widgets around Java,'" he said. "That's not the case; it's about changing the way applications are built."
The new development framework has been greatly anticipated by developers, who burst into applause when Workshop was first shown on a giant screen by the stage. At the same time, developers who watched Chuang's speech said they are still wrestling with what Web services are.
"I didn't understand what he said and I'm not really sure what Web services are, so it would be hard to for me to comment," said Jon Wynett of Global Healthcare Exchange, a Colorado-based company that makes an e-commerce system for the health industry.
Like many other IT professionals, Wynett is still trying to understand what Web services are, although he agreed that the idea of having an environment that lets programmers with different skills work on the same applications is an attractive one. "It looks like a good idea, although I'm suspicious that it won't solve real complex applications," Wynett said. "It's hard to account for every possibility, every type of situation."
Another attendee who works for an Italian bank said her company is still using BEA's Tuxedo product and has yet to start thinking about Web services. "Maybe in the future, but not now," said Tiziana Pirola, a systems administrator with Banc Pop di Bergamo, near Milan.