BEA partners to expand Java component market

Application server vendor BEA Systems has partnered with ComponentSource, an online software exchange, in a bid to expand the market for prewritten Java components and make the development language more competitive with rival technologies from Microsoft.

Such components are purchased by developers to save them time and money when writing applications. Around a third of all development projects make use of a handful of reusable components, which sell for anything from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, officials at the two companies said.

The pact should help to grow the market for such Java components, which currently lags considerably behind that of comparable Microsoft technologies, said Sam Patterson, chief executive officer at ComponentSource, in Kennesaw, Georgia, which sells components for both Java and Windows developers.

BEA positioned the deal as one that would help the Java community as a whole and not just BEA, although it appears that BEA will be the main beneficiary, at least initially, said Mike Gilpin, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group Inc.

ComponentSource has created two stores, or "galleries," on its site where developers can download components for BEA's server software and for WebLogic Workshop, its development environment launched earlier this year. The galleries will be linked from BEA's dev2dev developer portal. In addition, ComponentSource launched a WebLogic-specific store within its site.

BEA will also work with independent software vendors to encourage them to create new reusable components, including Java Web services and tools. The components on offer include simple programs for validating a credit card or calculating sales tax, as well as more complex programs.

ComponentSource provides services that help vendors to license, package and price their software, and offers developers some assurance that the code they download comes from a reputable source. It collects a fee from vendors that sell the components and tools through its site.

In particular, BEA hopes the ComponentSource deal will give Workshop a boost by making additional "controls" available for the fledgling development environment. The controls are prewritten pieces of code that can be invoked through visual tools in Workshop, making it easier for programmers who aren't experts in J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) to write enterprise applications.

BEA is trying to establish its control architecture as an industry standard and has submitted a related "Java specification request" to the Java Community Process (JCP), the Java standards body. But it's not clear yet whether vendors such as IBM Corp. will sign onto the standard, and until they do BEA's efforts are of "moderate value" to the Java community as a whole, Gilpin said.

"IBM would be skeptical of doing something that might benefit BEA," he said. "This really needs the support of other vendors to make it happen."

Still, BEA's efforts to promote controls are a move in the right direction, he said, noting that Microsoft's Visual Basic language became much more widely used after Microsoft introduced similar programming shortcuts for its own tools.

Patterson of ComponentSource said that BEA is not acting in a strictly selfish manner.

"They're not doing it in a proprietary fashion. We will see adoption of this by other vendors," Patterson said, while agreeing that the initiative needs backing from BEA's competitors to succeed. "These technologies need to get adopted by the JCP. And companies like IBM need to implement the spec on top of their J2EE servers."

Another part of the deal calls for the companies to integrate BEA's WebLogic Workshop with ComponentSource's marketplace, so that developers can access and introduce third-party components from the BEA platform in much the way that Windows developers can via Microsoft's Visual Studio toolset.

BEA's developer efforts could use a lift. At the start of the year it made a song and dance about how it would have one million BEA Java developers on board by the end of this year. In fact it has amassed only about half that number, acknowledged Scott Fallon, BEA's vice president of developer relations.

"That was a bit of a stretch," he said. "The economy didn't do what we had hoped it would do so we sort of backed off that goal. We're still growing quite healthily; every month we add 5 to 10 percent" to BEA's developer count.

Gilpin said the one million target was "unrealistic" given how new the Workshop product is. The way to attract new developers is with new tools, and WebLogic Workshop is still too new to attract them in such large numbers, he said.

"The developers in the J2EE community still hold BEA in high regard, but until recently they've seen Workshop as ... interesting but still a 1.0 product that won't change the way (they) do things," he saidBEA could still reach its goal of a million developers by this time next year, Gilpin said, although BEA officials wouldn't be tied down to another target date.

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