Sun buys its way into Java tools game

By buying two vendors of Java-development tools, Sun Microsystems finally might be able to make some money off the Java language itself.

Java development has exploded in recent years. Sun estimates there are now more than 1.7 million Java developers worldwide. However, Sun has watched an array of other vendors grow fat serving the needs of this fast-growing market.

But Java's creator will no longer be sitting on the development tools sideline. Just two weeks ago, Sun finished its purchase of Forte‚ Software, and said it was buying a second tools company, NetBeans, based in Prague.

Forte's recently released SynerJ tool set will become Sun's high-end product offering, aimed at large-scale, distributed Java applications.

The NetBeans Developer tool set is aimed at the larger group of Java developers - those building applications that run on a single server and typically access a single database. The NetBeans offering is a leading tool set for building Java applications on Linux systems, according to Sun executives.

"We are very, very happy with these announcements," says Roy Singham, president of ThoughtWorks, a Chicago-based systems integrator that specialises in high-end distributed object systems in Java.

"Without Forte, Sun did not have a viable tool offering in the business-to-business internet world. Forte brings to the table a lot of things that have been missing from server-side Java development."

The Forte and NetBeans products will be labeled "Forte‚ for Java" to capitalise on the Forte brand, which is fairly well-known among enterprise programmers who used Forte's earlier 4GL-based tool set.

Sun will offer three products. The "community edition" will be a free, entry-level version of NetBeans Developer. The "internet edition" will be the full-blown NetBeans product, with pricing to be announced soon. The "enterprise edition" will be the SynerJ tool set, which is built around a repository to store and track the various components of a large, distributed application. The tool set supports the APIs and services in the Java 2 Enterprise Edition specification for server-based code and for EJB.

SynerJ is notable for its Assembler tool, which pulls together the final application and runs it on several servers.

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