BEA Systems will release the source code for part of its WebLogic Workshop Java development environment.
Workshop aims to make it easier for Java programmers to build enterprise applications by mimicking some of the visual drag and drop features in Microsoft's Visual Studio tools.
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Rivals such as IBM and Sun Microsystems are also creating tools to make Java easier to use, something viewed as important for the technology's continued success.
Under a project called Beehive, BEA will release part of the underlying code for Workshop under a BSD open-source licence by the middle of next year.
It will certify the code for use with the Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat web server, which means developers will be able to use Workshop to build applications that run on Tomcat, said Scott Dietzen, BEA's chief technology officer.
Applications created in Workshop run only on BEA's WebLogic products.
Dietzen said the move was good for the Java community as a whole.
Opening a development framework suxh as Workshop to more developers should help make Java more competitive with Microsoft's .net technology, he said.
Open-source developers will be able to create other versions of Workshop if they choose to for commercial application servers from the likes of IBM and Oracle.
The move is also designed to steer more customers toward BEA's own WebLogic family of server products at a time when the company's market share has been declining.
Developers often begin pilot projects using Tomcat, and BEA hoped that by giving those developers the option to use Workshop, their familiarity with the product will lead them to migrate to BEA's fee-based products when the time comes to deploy their applications, Dietzen said.
BEA has not yet decided who will host the open-source project.
Shawn Willett, a principal analyst with Current Analysis, said the move is a clever one on the part of BEA to try to establish broader support for the Workshop framework while skirting the Java Community Process (JCP), the established process for setting Java standards.
The JCP can take up to 18 months to approve Java standards, and promoting its Workshop developer framework through the open-source community is a faster way to establish broader support for the technology, Dietzen said.
The effort could clash with IBM's Eclipse open-source Java tools project, although BEA officials insisted that Beehive will be complementary rather than a competitor to that effort.
Workshop consists of two parts: the development environment itself, and an "application framework" or "run-time", which is the part that allows developers to reuse Java code and abstract away the complexities of J2EE. It is that application framework that BEA is opening the source code for, not the development environment.
BEA will be a complement, rather than a competitor to the Eclipse project because Eclipse is a development environment that could potentially also work with Beehive, said Cornelius Willis, who heads developer relations at BEA.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service