BEA Takes An Open Approach

The company hopes to broaden the appeal of its Workshop visual-development tools by releasing some code under an open-source software license

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 9, 2004

4 Min Read

BEA Systems Inc., a software company with widely used middleware but scant uptake of its development tools, is trying a new tack: open-source software.

At the JavaOne developers' conference last month, BEA said it plans to release the run-time code for its Workshop visual-development tools under an open-source software license later this year in a project called Beehive. While BEA holds an 11.5% share of the market for application-server software used by companies to serve up data through their Web sites, its share of the market for development tools is much smaller, according to market researchers.

For the $1 billion-a-year company, releasing Workshop under the open-source Apache license could be a way to garner more interest in that product and interest developers in its cash-cow app-server software. "We're making a bet we can proliferate the technology," BEA chief technology officer Scott Dietzen said in a speech at JavaOne, in San Francisco.

BEA released Workshop two years ago and marketed it as a tool that could attract to its Java-based software platform developers used to working with highly graphical development environments such as those supplied by Microsoft. But Workshop as a commercial product has yet to achieve a broad following, Dietzen said. The bid to broaden its appeal through open source is "a great way to get technology into a lot of hands," he said. Beehive will be available free of charge under the open-source Apache license and will work with application servers from a number of companies. BEA will continue to sell Workshop under its standard commercial license.

IBM and Sun Microsystems, the two largest suppliers of Java-based software, have released some code for their development tools under open-source licenses that let users freely read and change the products' source code.

Sun last month released version 4 of its NetBeans open-source development tools, the first to offer the full ability to develop business applications that adhere to the widely used Java 2 Enterprise Edition specification. Sun also released smaller software projects called Project Looking Glass and Java 3D for building graphical user interfaces under open-source licenses, but it has so far resisted calls from IBM and others to make more of its Java programming language available as open-source software. IBM has released its Eclipse development environment under an open-source license and last week said it would include code from an open-source project in certain of its Rational tools for testing code.

But Yankee Group analyst Dana Gardner says whereas Sun is donating code as open source "near the start of its life cycle," IBM and BEA are donating code "near the end." IBM's VisualAge for Java, on which Eclipse is built, and BEA's Workshop haven't developed big followings, he adds. At a conference in Shanghai, China, last month, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz said the company plans to make its Solaris operating system available under an open-source license, though he declined to say how or when. If that happens, Gardner says, "a proprietary barrier will fall" against doing the same for Java.

BEA's Dietzen has supported releasing the Java language code as open-source software, but the company's own issues are more immediate. For two years, BEA has been trying to implement a shift among Java developers toward a "controls" approach akin to what Microsoft offers with its Visual Basic language. By using controls, developers can use a single graphical element to summarize a complicated process, such as verifying a purchase order.

So far, Java programmers have declined to move in large numbers toward a controls-oriented programming tool, Dietzen said. Despite its lack of success until now, Workshop represents a simpler approach in Java tools. For example, programmers can work with icons that represent more complex functions.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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