I woke up this morning to news that BEA is now the latest company to jump on the drag-n-drop programming for non-programmers bandwagon by announcing that in the coming months, it will make available some yet-to-be-named-or-branded tools that "let businesspeople create and make changes to Java code." Sounds a bit vaporwarish to me. Congrats to News.com's Martin Lamonica on the scoop by the way. Shortly after spotting the story, a search of Google News revealed that he broke the news by a long shot.
One of the problems for purveyors of solutions that depend on the vitality of the .Net and Java ecosystems is that the most important part of those ecosystems -- the population of developers developing for them -- isn't growing that much. Proponents of Java for example, have been citing the same 3 million developers for as long as I can remember. As it turns out, there are only so many of us with the stomach for application development.
Sun might argue that the presence of mobile Java (officially called J2ME) in phones and handhelds has given birth to an entire new generation of Java-based applications. But who's writing them? Answer? The same people who were writing the non-mobile ones before. Trust me, if there was any significant growth in the number of Java developers because of the mobile revolution, we'd be hearing about it. We're not. .Net developers are harder to put our finger on because it's not clear what a .Net developer is. Is it someone who uses Visual Studio .NET? Do end users with the .Net Framework on their desktops count (after all, some of them have written Office macros that rely on .Net)?
As evidenced by their never ending pursuit of mortals who'd much sooner slit their wrists that write a line of C# or Java code (or pick up a good O'Reilly book for some bedtime reading), app dev vendors like BEA with today's non-announcement announcement, Microsoft with it's Express line of tools, and Sun with projects like Rave (now called Java Studio Creator) have been looking for a way to demystify software development to the point that Grandma can do it. OK, that's an exaggeration. Lamonica characterizes BEA's target as "nontechnical businesspeople." But why not Grandma?
While there are hundreds if not thousands of smaller players who have been chipping away at this problem for a while -- particularly in the area of business process management -- the biggies like BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun know that certain spoils await the first one amongst them that manages a breakthrough to non-programmers en masse. For example, in typical ecosystem fashion, an increase in demand for a particular company's development tools should generate demand for software infrastructure solutions such as application servers. Knowing that such a promised land could await Java (in the bigger scheme of the Java vs. .Net war) , Sun has said that it wants to triple the size of the Java community. Somehow.
This is wishful thinking (if us mortals are the key to such a goal). Even worse, the blind are leading the blind (see Java camp take cue from Microsoft). As I've written before, I still believe that click n' drag IT will continue to elude us for the foreseeable future and now, thanks to what I can tell from the BEA announcement, I think I've figured out why. The question will take an entire column to answer (so yes, that's in the works), but the basic premise of my argument is that if you want to lead a horse to water, don't show it the way to desalination plant like all -- well almost all -- of today's vendors are doing. Lest you misinterpret my intentions in this blog entry (you could say that I'm helping vendors do more business), I'm not. Although I can write code and have done it before, I'd rather be more mortal about it, save myself some time, and let someone else do the heavy lifting. I can't.
Like I said, this is a topic that deserves column-like exploration. But before writing that column, I'd like to hear your thoughts. At the end of my last column on the matter, there were some thought provoking TalkBacks. It's a discussion that's worth continuing if we want our solution providers to wake up an smell the coffee.