Sun Consolidates Tools Offering, Buys Java IDE

With the goal of simplifying its tools and application-server offerings, Sun Microsystems Inc. last week added to its technology holdings, announcing the purchase of Java tools vendor, NetBeans, and completing its acquisition of enterprise software vendor, Forte.

The Palo Alto, California-based systems company outlined its tools and server-convergence strategy, which aligns its tools and application integration software under Forte, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sun. Its numerous application-server platforms are now placed within the Sun-Netscape Alliance iPlanet family.

Sun also announced the formation of a US$200 million venture fund, to be managed by Jonathan Schwartz, vice president at Sun, that will seed the development of Internet equipment and software based on Sun technology.

Marty Sprinzen, Forte president and CEO, will head the combined tools group, which will draw on Sun's existing tools and those of NetBeans, a Prague, Czech Republic-based company known for its Java integrated development environment (IDE) for the Linux variant of Unix. NetBeans also produces tools for the Sun Solaris and Microsoft Windows platforms.

Sun's solidification of its Java product line, and ties to its complementary hardware and operating systems platforms, raise more questions about the company's credibility in leading the cross-vendor Java community, while competing on many fronts. But these latest moves don't dent its credibility, according to Tom Dwyer, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, a market research company in Boston.

"It's been Sun's position that each group will stand on its own and compete on its own, and [Sun] has always maintained a fairly faithful approach about promoting Java as a cross-platform environment. It's not just selling hardware or some other product that Sun happens to make," Dwyer said.

The NetBeans Developer and Developer Pro editions are positioned as Sun's entry-level and intermediate Java tools offerings, respectively. NetBeans Developer is available free of charge at http://www.

NetBeans' products will be renamed, along with Sun's other acquired tools, to bear the Forte brand name. NetBeans tools will also be integrated with other Forte offerings to support technologies such as the Forte repository.

On the tools side, Sun has placed under its community source-access program the Sun Java WorkShop and Java Studio and has dropped them as commercial products. The NetDynamics tools that accompany the application-server platform of the same name will be folded into the Forte for Java products over time and dropped as a separate entity.

Migration strategies are in place or will be provided for existing users of the various tools that will be absorbed and phased out over time, Sun officials said.

"A lot of trade-offs need to be made in working out the migration plan," Dwyer said. "In some senses, it might be the right thing to help some customers migrate away. If you try to please everybody, you please nobody."

Sun's application-server focus will rest on the iPlanet server of the Sun-Netscape Alliance.

With these moves, Sun is attempting to pull together a competitive soup-to-nuts tools line that spans entry-level Java development, deployment on single Web servers, and complex development technology, for creating high-end applications running on multiple application servers, said Pat Sueltz, president of Sun's software products and platforms division and a recent arrival from IBM.

The Forte subsidiary will not drop its cross-platform tools coverage in the Unix environment in favor of Sun's Solaris.

"Our focus has been across many Unix platforms, and our strategy is to absolutely continue with that level of heterogeneity," Sprinzen said.

Although the NetBeans acquisition reflects a strong commitment to the Linux environment, Sun currently has no plans to go as far as pre-loading the open-source Unix variant on its hardware systems, according to Schwartz.

Sun Microsystems Inc., in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at

Sun bolsters tools line

The company realigned its products under its Forte subsidiary.

-- NetBeans Developer and Developer Pro editions: entry-level and intermediate Java tools (renamed Forte for Java Community Edition and Forte for Java Internet Edition), which support common technologies such as the Forte repository-- Forte SynerJ tool: deployment software and application server suite (to be renamed Forte for Java, Enterprise Edition), which includes repository and other functions for large-scale application deployment (Forte application server to be replaced by the iPlanet server)-- Beta version of Forte for Java Enterprise Edition: works with iPlanet server, due in early 2000-- Other tools: Sun's Fortran and C++ products, Forte's namesake fourth-generation language, and Forte Fusion for Enterprise Application Integration

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