IBM backs away from Java community effort

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When a group of Java software vendors unveils an agreement Wednesday to align their Java tools strategies, IBM will not be among them.

Bob Sutor, IBM's director of WebSphere software, told CRN that IBM is not a part of a plan being hatched by Java tools vendors, including Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems, to set a standard for how their tools interact with each other.

The plan, first unveiled in published reports in November as the Java Tools Community effort, will be formally launched Tuesday morning [US time] in a teleconference by the vendors.

'We have nothing bad to say about [the plan], but our major focus is on Eclipse,' Sutor said, referring to an open-source framework introduced by IBM in November 2001 that allows various vendor tools to interoperate in one development environment.

Sun, BEA and other companies involved in Tuesday's announcement were under a self-imposed 'gag order' and were not available to comment on their plans, according to a Sun spokeswoman.

In the past several years, Java tools, though based on the standard Java language and APIs, have become increasingly proprietary, with vendors such as IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle building their tools almost exclusively to support development in their own Java software.

This vendor-specific focus has made it more difficult for Java IDEs from cross-platform vendors such as Borland Software to interact with these platform-specific tools, because they contain components common only to the software platform they support.

Eclipse attempted to solve this problem by offering a standard IDE and framework that multiple vendors could support through plug-ins that would allow their tools to work together.

Rather than foster competition between Eclipse and a potentially new framework supported by competitors to allow Java tools interoperability, Sutor said IBM has its sights set squarely on Microsoft as the chief competition to the Java development community. 'When we think about 'us versus them,' the 'them' is Microsoft,' he said.

However, without IBM's support, a new initiative to align tools strategies will pave the way for a scenario that pits developers using IBM's WebSphere-branded Java tools, which are built on Eclipse, against tools from the community that supports a new initiative, industry experts said.

'I won't be surprised [in the future] if there were two JavaOne [conferences]--one that's sponsored by IBM, one that's not,' said Joe Lindsay, CTO for US-based eBuilt of the polarisation between IBM and other Java tools vendors.

Lindsay said it makes more sense for vendors to support one framework, and Eclipse is a good candidate because it already is available and is open source. Further fragmentation over how to allow for better interoperability between Java tools will only hinder the Java development community's efforts to compete with Microsoft, not make the community stronger, he said.

While many notable vendors support Eclipse, including Macromedia, Sybase, Red Hat and Intel, Sun Microsystems and BEA do not. Just last month, Sun said it was abandoning efforts to work with IBM to find a way to develop Eclipse plug-ins so they can also interoperate with NetBeans, the open-source framework on which Sun's Java tools are based.

Sun and IBM, former partners in developing Java, have been at odds over the technology for some time. Observers widely believe the bad blood stems from the success of IBM's WebSphere Java software over the past several years, while Sun's own Java software efforts faltered.

IBM also has teamed with Microsoft on key Web services standards efforts since 2000. Sun has either declined to join some of these efforts; supported them after initial controversy, as in the case of the Web Services Interoperabilty Organization (WS-I); or has elected to support rival strategies instead.

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