Oracle submits standards proposal to Java group

Oracle Tuesday announced that its attempt to establish a standards-based way for vendors to get their Java development tools to work together. But it's unclear how much support the proposal will draw and whether it will help ease tension among some Java vendors.

Oracle submitted a specification for a new application programming interface (API) to the Java Community Process (JCP), which Sun Microsystems Inc. established to help Java technology evolve. But the Oracle proposal has yet to be accepted by the JCP executive committee, which will vote on the measure two weeks from Tuesday, according to Ted Farrell, architect and director of strategy for application development tools at Oracle.

"It's a good thing if it bears fruit, and it will bear fruit if the Java community picks it up," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Farrell said that every Java vendor currently has a proprietary API for its Java integrated development environment (IDE). The creation of a standard API would eliminate the need for a tools vendor to build a different extension every time it wants to get its tools to work with another vendor's IDE or an open-source development platform such as Eclipse, founded by IBM Corp., and NetBeans, started by Sun, he said.

So far, Oracle has announced support for its proposed "Standard Extension API for Integrated Development Environments" from only three vendors -- Sun, Macromedia Inc. and JetBrains Inc.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., said that he wouldn't put odds at any better than even that Oracle's proposal will ease tensions among major tools vendors and aid product integration. For now, Gilpin said, the Eclipse development platform has the momentum.

IBM donated its Eclipse platform to the open-source community last year. Tools vendors that build to the Eclipse platform allow their users to work from a single portal-like interface with any other tools that have been extended to work with Eclipse. The Eclipse project is now managed by a consortium of vendors that includes IBM Corp., Borland Software Corp., Fujitsu Software Corp., Rational Software Corp. and Sybase Inc.

Oracle will add its name to that list later this week when it announces its election to the Eclipse board. Farrell, who will serve as Oracle's representative on the board, said his company wants to ensure that Eclipse users have the same benefits when building to the Oracle platform as users of the Oracle 9i JDeveloper tool have.

"We believe by joining the board, we will be a positive influence on that process," he said.

Although Eclipse purports to be a standard platform for all tools, Farrell said it suffers from the stigma of incorporating its own Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) for creating user interfaces rather that the Swing technology that is evolving through Sun's Java community process.

Farrell said Eclipse, which is "very IBM-focused," needs more board members committed to standards. He added that he thinks Eclipse should have worked to improve Swing rather than go to SWT.

Scott Hebner, director of marketing for WebSphere at IBM, said Swing wasn't designed to be an interface for tools. The market ought to look at Swing and SWT as complementary technologies, he added.

"What Oracle is appearing to do is create a bridge between the two. The question would be: Why didn't Sun do that?" Hebner said.

He applauded Oracle's plan to join the Eclipse board, but said he doesn't know enough about Oracle's Java Specification Request (JSR) to comment. "The fact that they're trying to extend the value of Eclipse is good," Hebner said.

Sun couldn't be reached for comment. Mark Herring, senior director of marketing, said in a prepared statement that Sun plans to fully support and participate in Oracle's JSR. "The Java developer community and NetBeans.org developers recognize that the best way to drive forward innovation is through an open, community-based process, providing a basis for fully interoperable products supporting a diversity of IDEs," Herring stated.

Tom Murphy, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc., said that Oracle is trying to act as a peacemaker between Sun and IBM. "It will remain to be seen how effective they can be," he said. "But it would be good for end users if they're successful."

End users might have more productive tools at their disposal, he said.

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