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Sun to renew its hunt for developers

The company looks to drive adoption of its Project Orion software-bundling strategy with Java development tools designed to work with the entire Orion suite.

Sun Microsystems is preparing a developer toolkit designed to drive adoption of its Project Orion software-bundling strategy.

At its SunNetwork conference set for mid-September in San Francisco, Sun will provide details about a developer edition of Orion tuned for writing applications that work with the Orion software package, according to company executives.

Project Orion is Sun's attempt to simplify the purchasing, deploying and updating of business software. The company has created a single package, made up mainly of its Sun One suite of Java server software, which it updates every quarter. Rather than paying for a separate license for each component of Orion, customers will pay a flat per-employee fee.

Sun is expected to release the first installment of Orion, which is now in a testing program and to announce pricing at the SunNetwork conference.

Orion Developer will include the Sun One Studio Java development tool and the Orion software "stack," which includes Sun One application server, portal, directory and security software. The developer edition will include access to developer resources, such as a knowledge base, sample code and documentation, executives said.

The goal of Orion Developer is to let a programmer easily write Java applications that will run on the entire suite of Orion software, said Richard Green, vice president of development tools at Sun. By creating what it hopes will be an appealing development-tools package, Sun hopes to drive up the number of applications that run on the Orion software and Sun hardware.

"The strategy is to create tools that operate with the (Orion) system rather than buy a system and then the tools," Green said. "The challenge for Sun is presenting a straightforward view for the developer, so that it's easy from testing to production."

Orion Developer is expected to be completed later this year. Green declined to discuss specific pricing, though he said that the package will be priced aggressively. Orion Developer will run on the Solaris, Linux and Windows operating systems and will allow programmers to deploy applications on Linux or Solaris, executives said.

No first-mover advantage
Orion Developer is Sun's latest effort to boost its development tools to gain ground on other Java software providers. Although Sun invented Java and administers the process of introducing new features, uptake of Sun's own development tools and closely related Java application servers--needed to run custom-written Java applications--lags that of its competitors, according to analysts. Sun trails market leaders IBM and BEA Systems, which collectively account for well over half of the revenue in Java application servers, according to Gartner Dataquest.

"Java is very mature and widely accepted. The question is: Is the Sun developer suite enjoying the same level of success? Well, not as much," said Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances Group, a research firm. "They were late to the game with a rapid development suite, which was a space that Borland (Software) conquered years before."

Sun is one of several Java heavyweights investing in developer tools and programs to help drive related software sales. BEA is placing a big bet on the success of its WebLogic Workshop programming tool. IBM, Borland and Oracle, too, are upgrading their respective Java programming applications to try to expand their respective developer bases.

Orion Developer will be aimed at highly skilled Java developers trained in the relatively sophisticated Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) programming model. Sun is also preparing a simpler Java tool called Rave designed to appeal to a much larger group of developers comfortable with a more rapid, visual programming approach.

With Rave, Sun is trying to capture the interest of the estimated 3 million developers who use Microsoft's Visual Basic. Microsoft's programming tools have a reputation for being simpler and more productive than comparable Java-based products, and the success of those tools and related developer programs has been a crucial part of the company's success in spreading the adoption of Windows-based software.

Rave will go into "early access" testing later this year and will be completed in 2004, executives said. Sun will also preview Rave at the SunNetwork conference.

With the first edition of Rave, developers will be able to create relatively straightforward applications, such as one that fetches data from a database and presents it in a Web browser. The tool will be visually oriented, but programmers will still be able to look at the Java source code to make modifications. It will support the forthcoming JavaServer Faces standard, which is designed to make tapping into corporate data sources easier.

In the second version of Rave, Sun will apply the same visual programming model to creating applications for mobile devices that run Java 2 Mobile Edition software, Green said.

Separately, Green said that Sun has secured distribution agreements for its Java runtime software with enough PC manufacturers to cover more than half of all PCs made. In June, the company penned deals with Dell and Hewlett-Packard, under which the two PC companies will include Sun's version of the Java runtime environment, or Java Virtual Machine, which allows Java applications to run on desktop PCs.

The deals make Sun's Java runtime software the default over Microsoft's own Java software, which Green said is out-of-date. Sun and Microsoft are in a protracted legal battle around the distribution of the Java runtime environment on Windows PCs.

In addition to the Dell and HP agreements, Sun is expected in the near future to announce the Java deals it's made with other PC manufacturers, which include companies in Asia, Europe and the United States.