BEA Systems Inc's dream of a vibrant online Java and web services community comprising one million developers by December faces a setback amid uncertainty over the company's credibility as an infrastructure provider,Gavin Clarke writes
San Jose, California-based BEA is failing to attract the "landslide" of developers it hoped would abandon rivals for its WebLogic Platform and the company's growing dev2dev online service.
BEA's goal was for a WebLogic community of more than one million developers by the end of the year, up from approximately 320,000 last year. BEA revealed the ambition last December with details of "Cajun", since launched as WebLogic Studio.
But BEA's community currently numbers approximately 480,000, meaning the company is unlikely to achieve its stated goal by year's end.
BEA's chief marketing officer Tod Nielsen told ComputerWire: "We have been winning week by week, and month by month rather than an exponential landslide."
The company is attempting to emulate Microsoft Corp's popular Developer Network (MSDN) with dev2dev, which is architected by Nielsen, an ex-Microsoft staffer. Nielsen said BEA would press on with more dev2dev road-shows that feature luminaries such as XML pioneer and vice president of engineering Adam Bosworth.
More dev2dev announcements are also expected. "We are going to keep investing in the space," Nielsen said.
BEA has experienced difficulty attracting Visual Basic 6.0 developers who it believes are disillusioned with Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's latest version of its language, Visual Basic.NET, and are ready to try Java.
BEA hoped it could this year attract Microsoft defectors to WebLogic Workshop. BEA's web services development environment uses graphical and drag-and-drop development techniques familiar in Windows but lacking in many Java development environments.
WebLogic Workshop helps automate development of Java-based web services, so developers can build using advanced APIs in Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) 1.3 but without need for familiarity with APIs.
"We are getting pretty good download experimentation, but I don't have a reference of a Visual Basic shop that has switched wholesale," Nielsen said.
Nielson blamed the economy, which he said has forced developers to focus on finding work. "When the economy is tight, [developers] spend less time on experimentation and more on hunting down work," he said.
Microsoft, though, claims Visual Basic 6.0 developers are largely happy with Visual Basic.NET because it ended so-called "DLL hell" - the term used to describe when installing a new program disabled an existing application.
But Visual Studio.NET product manager Chris Flores concedes a stalemate does exist. Visual Basic 6.0 programmers are awaiting a second iteration of the programming language that is perceived to be more stable than Microsoft's first effort. A second version is expected in Visual Studio.NET Everett, due in the first quarter of 2003.
"I'm not seeing Visual Basic developers stop and pause and move to Sun Microsystems or BEA," Flores said. "A lot are waiting for the second release, for the technical knots to be worked out."
Ovum software analyst Bola Rotibi said BEA's biggest problem remains its identity. The company calls itself an "application infrastructure" company - offering web services development environment, portal and integration software atop an application server. To many, though, it is still primarily known as an application server company.
J2EE rivals IBM and Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle Corp may have application servers but they also boast relatively established database platforms and development environments that lock-in their own users. That means a move to BEA raises questions over infrastructure.
"BEA still has to work to convince the world they are credible and know that they are doing. The other guys have had some time to do this," Rotibi said.
WebLogic Workshop is also a little too-cutting edge for many, despite some early adoption by customers. WebLogic Workshop is not a full Java development environment, and BEA instead relies on alliances for full tools support such as the recently announced JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition with Scotts Valley, California-based Borland Software Corp.
"Web services is one aspect of the development environment - it's an important aspect, but development crosses a wide boundary. Many people are still trying to understand how this fits in with their infrastructure," Rotibi said.