Sun Targets ‘Corporate Developers’ with RAD Tools

an Francisco, Calif.?Sun says it plans to more than triple its developer base in the next few years. The plan is to target developers whose skill levels and development needs call for simpler tools than the complex enterprise development technologies for which Java is known. During the keynote at the 2003 JavaOne developer conference on Wednesday morning, Sun Vice President of Development Tools and Java Software Richard Green acknowledged that if Sun is to reach its goal of growing the current 3 million Java developers to 10 million, it can’t expect to find that audience among the advanced technologists and enterprise architects it historically has served. “The enormous growth opportunity is in the area of the corporate developer,” said Green, “it’s the largest segment of all, and it’s where we need to go next.”

Sun defines the corporate developer as an IT professional who periodically needs to create low-complexity applications that increase productivity among a workgroup, yet prefers not to code by hand. Someone who is more concerned with assembling applications than coding is how Green described one. A corporate developer, according to Sun, generally works inside the firewall, in a single domain, and within a workgroup.

Sun used much of the keynote to tout its premier initiatives for capturing this type of user: the Java language’s upcoming support for scripting languages, and the upcoming development tools, Project Rave and Project Relator.

Calling All Scriptors
To voice the importance of scripting languages, Sun had Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly and Associates, address the audience. O’Reilly, who has been a proponent of scripting languages for some time, believes they are more important than people seem to think. “[They are] underground, but an incredibly important, incredibly viable part of the computer industry,” he said.

“Scripting languages lower the barrier to being a developer.”
The throngs of novice developers who began as Web designers and went on to learn scripting languages to produce more advanced Web site functions are exactly the type of developers Sun is now targeting?which isn’t lost on O’Reilly. “Scripting languages lower the barrier to being a developer,” he explained.

A current Java Specification Request (JSR), Scripting Pages in Java Web Applications (JSR-223), describes how to write portable Java classes that can be invoked from a page written in any scripting language, with PHP serving as the reference scripting language implementation.

Project Rave: Drag-and-drop Web App Development
The first tool Sun will release that specifically targets the corporate developer is Project Rave, a rapid application development tool for building Web applications. Utilizing out-of-the-box, server-side components, a WYSIWYG design environment, and drag-and-drop functionality, this tool enables what Project Rave Architect Robert Brewin termed “form construction” of Web applications with very little coding. Sun showcased this new tool, slated for early release in the fall of this year, by having two engineers perform a live demonstration. They used Project Rave to build a “corporate travel center” application.

Using actual Sun employee travel data, they built an application that presented Green’s and Sun CEO Scott McNealy’s travel itineraries by mapping to the database where the information was stored and populating the appropriate fields. As the engineers dragged components from each of the four tool elements (Server Navigator, Palette, Property Sheet, and Portfolio Navigator) onto the main design window, Project Rave generated the code behind the design. They even added a travel agency Web service using standard JAXP-RPC.

Project Rave generated the code behind the design.
Green had to joke his way through a couple of failed attempts to launch the application, but they eventually succeeded after a total development time of about 10 minutes. A much smoother presentation of the same demo at a breakout session later in the day required only two instances of hand coding to complete the project. When finished, the engineer clicked a button and the tool compiled, deployed, and launched the newly created application.

Green added that Project Rave is 100-percent pure Java and therefore offers compatibility with other Java technologies. He said, “The goal is to ensure that applications that come from Project Rave can deploy on any standard Java server and be modified by any standard Java tool.”

Project Relator: Designer and Programmer Collaboration for Mobile Apps
The keynote audience also got to see a demo of the second tool Sun has slated for corporate developers, Project Relator. Despite not having a hard release date (early next year was as close to a commitment as Sun would get), Sun put the collaboration tool for user interface designers and programmers through its paces. Targeted toward graphic designers who need to design the interfaces for applications that run on J2ME-enabled devices, this tool allows them to design 80 percent of a mobile project with canned components in the Project Relator palette and then quickly throw together the rest of the application. Green summed it up by say, “No coding for graphic designers, and programmers don’t have to worry about UI.”

Sun’s Quest for New Java Developers
After it’s success in reaching widespread adoption among enterprise developers (Green claimed 3.5 million downloads of J2EE reference implementation), Sun has decided to look elsewhere for its growth. With an aggressive goal of adding 7 million more Java developers in the coming years, the company realizes it needs to tap the developers over whose heads they’ve been operating for so many years. There aren’t enough technologists and enterprise architects in the world to support that kind of growth.

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