What is it?
IBM's Websphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE) is a free downloadable J2EE platform for developing and deploying applications. It is built on the open-source application server, with extensions from IBM, including the IBM Java Developers Kit (JDK) and support for IBM's Java Virtual Machine. IBM has described it as "90% Apache Geronimo with an IBM WebSphere product look and feel".
WebSphere is IBM's strategic integration platform, and an essential technology for anyone developing and maintaining applications for IBM installations. The Community Edition provides a way in for people who do not have access to the £350-plus a day required for formal WebSphere training.
IBM says, "WAS CE shares many of the same capabilities of the rest of the WAS family. WAS CE is a different technology base, but if you are building applications based on J2EE standards, there is little difference."
Unlike JBoss, which uses integration and certification to differentiate between the community and commercial versions of its application server, IBM tests the interdependencies between existing and new features added to WAS Community Edition.
Where did it originate?
The WebSphere Application Server was first shipped in 1998. IBM first become involved with Apache Geronimo in 2005, providing resources that enabled it to get J2EE certification. WAS CE was released at the end of 2005.
What is it for?
Application servers are the "plumbing" or middleware that enables applications to be configured, deployed and managed, and to access data and talk to each another.
WAS CE has an Eclipse plug-in, providing access to a range of free application development, debugging and deployment tools for Java and other web applications and services. The open-source Apache Derby database is supplied, and there are drivers for IBM's DB2, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and MySQL. There is also a version of the administrative console used by paid-for WebSphere products.
What makes it special?
Provided you don't need support (which is where IBM makes its money), you don't have to pay to develop, test and deploy applications with WAS CE.
How difficult is it to master?
You can begin to develop simple applications as soon as you have downloaded the software, but this is not the place to start if you don't already have Java development skills. To gain WebSphere certification as a developer, you will need to pick your way through five "skill-building areas" - Java, Object Technology, Eclipse, Web Services and XML. Training for certification as a systems administrator takes from three to four and a half days, depending on the platform, but again you will be expected to show knowledge of the J2EE platform as well as XML, TCP/IP, HTTP and other internet concepts, and your target operating system.
What systems does it run on?
All IBM's mainframe and midrange systems, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX and Windows.
What is coming up?
Releases of WAS CE follow Apache Geronimo, which reached Version 2.1 in February this year. Release 7 of mainstream WebSphere is expected in September this year.
Rates of pay
From £30,000 to £35,000 for developers and administrators. Experienced WebSphere people are in demand as "infrastructure designers", "integration architects", and for similar senior staff and consultant posts.
or free self-learning material from IBM.