Developers at this week's JavaOne conference will get a chance to check the progress that tools suppliers have made in their long quest to ease Java programming so they can better compete against Microsoft.
Conference sponsor Sun Microsystems will try to reassert itself as a major player with the release of Java Studio Creator. The visually oriented tool aims to "make it as easy to develop for the Java platform as Visual Basic makes it for Windows", according to Joe Keller, the company's vice-president of Java web services developer tools marketing.
But some developers may cast an eye toward a joint venture between BEA Systems, Instantiations and the Eclipse Foundation, the non-profit spin-off overseeing the open-source development framework that IBM created.
The suppliers will announce plans for an open-source incubator project, called Pollinate, to create Eclipse-based development tools that integrate with Apache Beehive, an application runtime framework BEA turned over to the open-source community.
"The big theme is bringing Java to the masses," said Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner. "Studio Creator and what BEA is doing with Beehive are making it more attractive to the corporate IT programmer versus the highly skilled systems programmers."
A beta version of Pollinate is due this autumn under the Eclipse Public Licence. When it arrives, Eclipse users will get a chance to try BEA's Java Control architecture, a lightweight server-side component model which reduces the low-level plumbing code developers need to write.
"That sounds like a great idea," said Michael Reagin, the director of research and development at Providence Health System, which uses BEA's application server and Eclipse.
"It certainly would support the vision of open source, and I think it's going to be a positive for BEA and Java in general."
Reagin said the non-profit organisation looked at commercial offerings that required expensive, high-powered developer workstations and "didn't see a whole lot of value compared to Eclipse".
Only 30% of Providence Health System's development work is done in Java, and it gravitated toward the freely available Eclipse integrated development environment, he said.
Dave Cotter, director of developer marketing at BEA, said that if a supplier creates a control today, it works only on BEA's WebLogic. But with Beehive, suppliers could create controls for the Tomcat open-source application server or any J2EE-based application server that supports Beehive.
"Developers want to know that they can use the framework and not be locked into BEA's tools," said Driver. "The potential is that Beehive could become the de facto framework for high-productivity products - what we're calling the 'J2EZ space', where time to market, low cost and productivity are driving factors."
Sun's J2EZ offering, Java Studio Creator, will be available only to Sun Developer Network subscribers. The $99 price includes a perpetual licence to Java Studio Creator and one year of product updates, upgrades and access to premium content.
This week, Sun plans to release an early-access copy of its Java Studio Enterprise tool, which adds support for the Unified Modelling Language and application profiling.
Sun also plans to unveil the 4.0 release of its NetBeans application framework, which adds support for the creation of Enterprise JavaBeans and web services and a project management system based on The Apache Software Foundation's Ant.
NetBeans 4.0 could be out in late summer or early autumn, Keller added.
Carol Sliwa writes for Computerworld