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BEA hopes to start open-source buzz with Beehive

The Java software maker plans to release portions of its WebLogic Workshop development tool to an open-source project, with the hope of making its technology more broadly available.

BEA Systems plans to start an open-source project around its WebLogic Workshop Java development tool in an effort to drive wider adoption of its software.

The company on Wednesday detailed the open-source Beehive Project, which is based on portions of the code in BEA's Workshop programming tool. As previously reported, the goal of the initiative is to get more developers to use Java tools compatible with BEA server software. BEA also hopes to spur the creation of "controls," or prewritten Java components, based on BEA's component model.

The Beehive code, which will be updated by BEA engineers, will be available this summer through a BSD-style open-source license. BEA has not yet decided which organization will host the open-source project.
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BEA's WebLogic Workshop is a visual development tool designed to simplify Java programming and make it easier to integrate business applications. The tool has received praise from customers and industry analysts for its ability to mimic the visual programming style popularized by Microsoft's Visual Basic.

Although WebLogic Workshop has been a successful product for BEA, the company is facing growing competition for developer loyalty from other Java tools efforts, including Eclipse, an open-source project founded by IBM. In the past year, usage of Eclipse has shot up dramatically, with usage in North America rising 90 percent, according to Evans Data.

The software being released to the open-source community is what BEA calls an "application framework," or a set of utilities for deploying Java applications. For example, the Beehive software includes tools for managing a series of events during a multistep Web services application or designing the sequence of Web page views in a portal application. BEA executives said the company will not make any other "run time" software, such as its WebLogic application or portal software available to open-source developers.

Right now, the Beehive application framework only works with BEA's WebLogic Workshop development environment. That means that when a Java programmer writes an application with BEA's Workshop, the application can only run on BEA's Java server software. By making Beehive software open source, programmers will be able to use any Java development tool and potentially deploy it on other Java server software packages, BEA executives said.

"Up until now, leveraging the advanced ease-of-use features for Java came along with some level of proprietary vendor lock, and these proprietary frameworks fragment and hinder market growth," said Scott Dietzen, BEA's chief technology officer.

In fall, BEA says, it will release a version of Beehive to run on Apache Tomcat, the popular open-source server software for running Java-based Web applications. The company hopes that through the open-source project, versions of Beehive for other Java application servers will be created, said Cornelius Willis, BEA's vice president of developer marketing.

The success of BEA's open-source initiative hinges heavily on the interest of developers in the technology, said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at the Meta Group. If programmers begin to use Beehive software more broadly, other Java software providers will be forced into adopting it as well, he said.

"A big problem for all the Java tools manufacturers is beating Microsoft," Murphy said. "BEA is trying to establish themselves as a technology thought leader right up there with Microsoft."

Willis said BEA began working on the Beehive project last year and carefully examined the risk involved in making its proprietary software available to open source. BEA hopes open-source programmers will work with Beehive during the development phase and purchase BEA's WebLogic software when the application is finally deployed.

"We think the opportunity far outweighs the risk, by creating a market for exposing all of our businesses immediately adjacent to the Beehive framework," including BEA's portal software and integration broker, Willis said.

BEA also expects that broader use of Beehive will spur third-party software companies to write more controls. A control could provide, for example, software for accessing's hosted application. Willis said BEA and the Eclipse foundation are already discussing a possible plug-in that would let an Eclipse developer use the Beehive software.

BEA has already worked in open-source projects, having submitted its XML Beans code to the Apache Software Foundation last year. Sun is also using open-source projects to promote its Java development lines. The software from Sun's NetBeans project serves as the basis for Sun's commercial line of programming tools. Microsoft, too, has started to release source code from some small development tools to open source.