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Tie that binds Sun, NetBeans and Java criticized

The delicate balance between Sun's stewardship of Java and it's marketing of the NetBeans IDE came in for some criticism, some of it harsh, at this month's JavaOne.

Developers working on service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects may have been happy with the preview release of the NetBeans 6.0 IDE at this month's JavaOne, but Bill Roth, vice president of the BEA Workshop Unit of BEA Systems Inc., was not.

I think what they're doing is morally reprehensible.
Bill Roth
Vice PresidentBEA Workshop Unit of BEA Systems Inc.

Roth argued that Sun Microsystems Inc. has tied the NetBeans IDE to Java in a way that takes unfair advantage of Sun's custodial relationship to the Java language and ignores the developers working with the Eclipse IDE. "I think what they're doing is morally reprehensible," he said.

On the other hand, Sun executives say NetBeans and Java are based on open standards and in some cases, such as the new JavaFX scripting language even provides plug-ins for the rival Eclipse IDE.

However, while not as adamant as Roth, Michael Bechauf, vice president of industry standards at SAP AG, said Sun could do a better job of handling its relationship with Java Community Process, and NetBeans. He holds up Eclipse as a model for community governance.

Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC., strongly supports the criticism, saying, "Bill Roth from BEA is right on the money."

Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst of application infrastructure for Current Analysis LLC., sees Sun mostly protecting its investment in NetBeans, but suggests that more active participation by Sun in Eclipse would be a plus for the Java developer community.

But for Roth the tie between Java and NetBeans raises what he believes are ethical issues that weaken Sun's credibility at best and verge on monopolistic at worst.

In his pre-show blog, Roth predicted that Sun would continue to "conflate Java and NetBeans, thereby offending everyone who uses some other IDE, like the 50-60% of us who use Eclipse or Eclipse derivatives."

He wasn't any happier after JavaOne opened with Sun's keynote including the announcement of NetBeans 6.0.

"I think your readers should be outraged at Sun's attempt to tie NetBeans to Java," Roth said. "It's a crass attempt to leverage their position with the Java platform into an attempt to grab market share in another area. They have an economic advantage there, but Sun needs to cut loose in order to save their credibility. When they do things like that it ruins their credibility in this area. They should not in any way in a forum like JavaOne in an Open Source keynote tie NetBeans to Java."

ZapThink's Bloomberg agrees. "Sun is bowing to customer pressure to open Java," Bloomberg said, "but still wants to maintain more control than they would be comfortable letting other vendors have. In fact, Sun is somewhat of a loose cannon in the Java world from the perspective of many of the other Java-centric vendors. You could say that one of the political motivations behind SCA (Service Component Architecture) that folks like BEA and SAP are driving is an example of these vendors trying to build a Java infrastructure for SOA independent of Sun."

Shimmin, who was at JavaOne as an independent analyst, did not see it quiet the same way. "I don't believe Sun is trying to control or limit Java through the NetBeans platform," he said. "Rather, Sun has a substantial investment in that tool, which it feels represents its best opportunity to add value in a tooling market that is fast becoming proletarian in nature. Like Microsoft with Visual Studio, Sun does not want to give up its investment, but at the same time, it does want to tap into this wildly expanding arena."

Sun is not ignoring the growth of the Eclipse IDE, Shimmin said, although he thinks there is room for more beneficial cooperation.

"While Sun could have made Java FX Script NetBeans-only," the analyst said, "it chose to create plug-ins for both environments. It's just a shame that the company can't play a more active role in the Eclipse Foundation itself, which would benefit everyone."

Kevin Schmidt, director for SOA products at Sun, said the Java FX plug-ins to Eclipse show that Sun is committed to openness and noted that there could be benefits to developers from the competition between NetBeans and Eclipse.

"Are we going to provide Eclipse plug-ins for everything we do? Probably not," he said. "But we will if it's something that provides value because it allows us to get to developers who are working with Eclipse. Plus we believe NetBeans itself has progressed significantly. We think it's competitive [to the Eclipse IDE] in some places, superior in others. There's still work left to do, but I think the competition is good. You can look at some things like the Matisse GUI Builder, which was built as part of NetBeans and there's some folks who have ported that to Eclipse. I think there's some bi-directional work going on there and it's ultimately for the benefit of the developer."

However, SAP's Bechauf, said there is room for Sun to improve in the transparency of its stewardship of Java, he suggests that the Eclipse Foundation would be a good model of open source governance.

"I wish Sun had a more transparent community with less control," Bechauf said. He suggests that for all the good things Sun says about the Java Community Process and the NetBeans community, it is not governed in the same way as Eclipse.

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Bechauf rhetorically asked: "Where's the governance? That leads into what works in Eclipse and how NetBeans is different. The difference is the governance model. Eclipse is managed by an executive director, Mike Milinkovich. It's governed by a board of directors, who all contribute monetary and in-kind resources. The Java Community is not run that way. NetBeans is not run that way. And from what I understand the open source community around Java Virtual Machine is not run like that."

Where BEA's Roth said, "Sun needs to let go," Bechauf, said Sun needs to open the Java community by following the organizational lead of Eclipse.

"I think that would be an important step," Bechauf said.

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