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Sun aims Java at big business

If Sun Microsystems is to make serious money selling Java software, it needs to first tap into development budgets at big corporations.

If Sun Microsystems is to make serious money selling Java software, it needs to first tap into development budgets at big corporations.

Today the company began shipping the first of several upcoming Java tools intended to make the development language more palatable to corporate coders who might be enticed by Java's portability, but wary of moving away from their existing tried-and-tested tools.

Sun today announced the shipment of JavaSafe, a source version control system for developers building Java applications. Version control tools are a must in the corporate software development business, where software builders located thousands of miles apart often collaborate on a single project.

The tool, priced from $269 per user, tracks the various files that developers use to construct finished applications. It works with Java, JavaBeans, and Enterprise JavaBeans, as well as with C++ code, HTML files, database schema, and related documentation. JavaSafe identifies and records all changes made to files, so developers don't have to worry about whether or not they have the most current version of application code.

Sun's tool works with the company's Java Development Kit and is targeted at both corporate developers and independent software makers. But, more importantly, as Sun tries to broaden the overall Java tool market, it will also work with Java tools from Symantec and Inprise, the development tool maker formerly called Borland.

"Big companies have development teams spread out across the globe. JavaSafe can allow developers to all work together on the latest revisions and work collaboratively," Scott Ryder, a senior product manager at Sun, said.

JavaSafe is the first of several new Java tools slated to debut throughout the year, including JavaBlend, a database integration tool, and JavaModeler, an application modeling tool.

In the bigger picture, the tool, along with future products, also potentially puts Java--and the multitude of Java-based tools from Sun and other vendors--on the short list of technologies that are corporate developer-friendly.

That's an area that Sun must hone in order for the company's "enterprise-ready" Java rhetoric to have any chance of becoming reality and for the company to have any chance of competing with Microsoft in both the Java development tool space and in the overall battle for corporate developers.

Microsoft also sells a Java development tool, Visual J++, which is integrated with the company's own version control system, development repository, and its overall tools strategy.

Sun has proselytized a strategy of using interchangeable server-based components, called Enterprise JavaBeans, for building server applications. IBM, Oracle, and other companies have signed up to support EJB, but Sun itself carries little weight with enterprise developers, analysts said.

"I do have some doubt about Sun's new presence in the glass house," said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies, referring to Sun's low visibility role as a business software provider. "But IBM has credibility with corporate developers, so that will help."

Another potential problem is that Sun must walk a fine line between stimulating the broader market for Java tools and building a tools market for themselves.

"As they look to establish Java as an enterprise and server-side development language, this will keep cropping up," Davis said. "They're looking for ways to spin off revenue from Java. And they are also the standards bearer, so it's a bit of an awkward position.

"They have to walk this balance between what's good for Sun and the industry, and that's difficult."

So far, the jury is out on EJB's acceptance. To Sun's benefit, IBM has become the godfather of Java, and the loudest voice behind the initiative. "IBM more than Sun is sort of coaching enterprise developers into thinking that this technology has legs in the enterprise," adds Davis.

But the ink is barely dry on the EJB specification, and most products have yet to ship. And, although many software makers have pledged to support EJB, and server-side Java technologies, each is implementing its own platform-specific flavor.

"There is a classic issue of too many cooks with Enterprise Java Beans," said Davis. "It's not being uniformly implemented, and I don't see that happening for some time. All vendors are talking about server-side Java, but they are also talking about optimized versions of EJB for their own products."