For several years now, Oracle, with its own Java-based J2EE application server and integrated development environment (JDeveloper), has been trying to play in the same league as Java application server heavyweights IBM and BEA. But despite having traditionally positioned itself as the low cost provider of world class tools, the software vendor known mostly for it's database solutions hasn’t gotten the respect or traction that IBM, BEA, and now, the open source entry JBoss have (Oracle disputes this, citing Gartner's positioning of the company in the "leader quadrant" of one of the researcher's Magic Quadrants). Based on what Oracle's vice president Rick Shultz told me, Oracle will be looking to turn up the heat at JavaOne 2005 by lowering the cost of ownership even further while also hoping to advance its standards agenda by open sourcing certain technologies – a technique perfected by IBM that can sometimes lead to establishing de facto standards.
Although it's hard to say which of the JavaOne announcements is the most signficant one, the fact that Oracle is now giving away JDeveloper for free is both noteworthy and a sign of the times. Almost invariably, with any software company, the question is no longer "how much?" Rather, the new question is what do you give away for free or what part of what you make is open sourced?
Increasingly, the answer from application server vendors is "the developer tools." Oracle has long touted the combination of its server and developer tools as a full bodied Java development platform that, for its technical prowess, simply could not be matched in terms of value. In a story that's now more than two years old, Oracle responded to assertions by Cape Clear that application servers can be overkill by highlighting the value that one got at the time for $5,000. Said then Oracle 9iAS product marketing vice president John Magee, "Instead of spending $10,000 per CPU for Cape Clear, you can spend $5,000 per CPU with us and get Oracle 9iAS, which includes full J2EE 1.3 support, support for clustering, the TopLink object relational persistence framework, and five licenses for our Oracle 9i Jdeveloper integrated development environment."
But two years ago, the open-sourced Eclipse integrated development environment wasn't the center of Java development that it is today. Must to the chagrin of Sun and the IDE horse it has placed its bet on (NetBeans), the freely available Eclipse is getting the most important vote of confidence from the market: more support than any other IDE from third party software developers. In fact, a significant part of Oracle's JavaOne 2005 announcement is the redeployment of the Java technologies it believes to be the most important ones to services oriented development -- ones that are already in JDeveloper -- as plug-ins to Eclipse.
In the interview (available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in), Shultz said:
Amidst the slew of technologies and standards that are out there in the market today, there’s really just a few select key standard technologies that really matter for building the elements of an SOA application. We believe those are things like Java Server Faces for building user interfaces, Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 for building business logic and [the Business Process Execution Language] for mapping business process flows. For each of those technologies that help developers to build SOA applications, Oracle is making it easier to use those technologies through providing the tooling. We’re taking a leadership role in driving their direction, and we’re ensuring that there are free tools available for using all those technologies. We’re making our complete SOA development environment which we call Oracle JDeveloper 10g available for free to all developers. In addition to that, we’re also taking a leadership role and a major role in a couple open source projects around Java Server Faces (JSF). One being the Apache MyFaces project, where we’ve no joined as a core contributor and the other being our proposal to lead an Eclipse Foundation project for JSF tooling.
Perhaps more interesting was Shultz's response when asked whether or not Java should be open sourced (something that IBM has been lobbying for for a long time). Given that Oracle is a Java licensee, you'd think it might feel the same way as IBM (ditch the costly licensing and testing fees and let public discourse determine Java's future). Well, not exactly. Listen to the interview.