The Tools Market is Changing, but Demand for Support Isn’t

As extreme as the makeover promises to be, the new face of the Java tools market is unlikely to be unrecognizable (not for a while, anyway). Eclipse still has what Gartner analyst Mark Driver calls a “strong self-service flavor”; few companies are offering support-and-service packages.

Two exceptions, MyEclipse and Yoxos, are putting together what amount to Eclipse distributions, with certified tool bundles and product support. “What these companies are doing is reminiscent of the early days of Linux,” Driver says. (Think Red Hat for Eclipse.) Driver also sees an opportunity for mainstream toolmakers such as Borland Software to provide the kind of service and support customers are going to want for their Eclipse-based tools.

But for a number of reasons, many companies are still going to want to buy their tools the old-fashioned way, from traditional commercial vendors. Depending on the middleware on which they’ve standardized, there might not be much buying involved. Oracle is giving away its JDeveloper IDE to everybody, and other middleware vendors include their IDEs as part of the product bundle.

Michael Gallagher, manager of architecture and strategy for ABN Amro North America, likes many things about the Eclipse model, but says he doesn’t expect his company ever to abandon the “standard form of commercial relationship.”

“I like the idea of creating an open environment where everyone with a strong enough opinion can contribute their time and creativity to build better tools,” Gallagher says. “I don’t like the idea of paying someone to sit down and pull together all the individual plug-ins we need for a standard development tool. I want someone else to pull together their version of the best tools, package them up nicely so that they’ll run in my environment, then deliver them to me.”

ABN Amro is an international bank with European roots and a focus on consumer and commercial banking supported by an international wholesale business. The company performs retail banking services, mainly in its home country (The Netherlands), but also in Brazil (through Banco ABN Amro Real) and the U.S., where it owns Chicago-based LaSalle Bank and Michigan’s Standard Federal Bank. Other lines of business include private banking, asset management and investment banking. Founded in 1824, ABN Amro and its subsidiaries operate more than 3,800 offices in some 60 countries.

“People in my position aren’t really interested in open source because it’s the lowest cost software,” Gallagher says, “but because support for it is much wider spread, and there is greater innovation potential. And that’s what we’re seeing in Eclipse, especially the way the commercial community has evolved around it.”

ABM Amro is an IBM WebSphere shop, so the Eclipse-based WebSphere Studio IDE is a natural fit in its J2EE development toolbox, Gallagher says. “IBM wants to sell me WebSphere products,” he says. “They don’t want to sell me an IDE. But they want me to use the IDE so that I’ll use WebSphere more. And I need an IDE so that I can get my job done. IBM hasn’t built all the code in the traditional sense, but they are able to bring to me best of breed.”

For Web development, ABN Amro is using the Eclipse-based Exadel Studio tools from open-source development technologies provider, Exadel. Exadel sells tools that use the Eclipse platform to leverage Struts, JavaServer Faces, Hibernate, Spring and other open-source technologies for business solutions.

“What I like about companies like Exadel is that they acknowledge the way my company works,” Gallagher says. “I don’t spend a lot of time out on SourceForge pulling things down and figuring out how best to add them into our online banking. We’re structured to start by talking to our bankers to figure out what their needs are, to then look in our tools suites and figure what we’ve already got to solve their problems, and finally to talk to vendors about what new offerings they have.”

ABN Amro used Exadel’s tools to develop its Web site and to connect the site to its back office. The company has also used the tools on a number of internal applications, Gallagher says.

“As an architectural trend, we very much like to use Web technology internally,” he explains. “That’s not uncommon; you go to do your expenses, and you’re pulling up a browser nowadays. Five years ago, you were loading a fat client. Banking is very much about data and information management, so internally we have many of the same issues you have with an online business. The same technologies that work in that environment work very well in the back office, with minor exceptions.”

Gallagher, who works in the bank’s enterprise architecture group, says he’s surprised to hear claims that Eclipse is coming into the enterprise through the back door. “I’ve read those stories about Eclipse entering through the back door, and I always wondered in which reality that was happening,” he says. “Linux had to go through a bit of that, but that wasn’t because it was open source. That was the beginning of understanding that everything didn’t have to come with a salesperson. It was the beginning of the industry learning that people will actually donate their time and creativity, and how to build a business around that that will integrate with existing business dynamics.”

Forrester analyst Carl Zetie says that, although many developers believe Eclipse is secret, grassroots technology they have to keep it hidden from their managers, it’s really not. “Don’t be surprised when you find out that a lot of your managers do actually know that you’re using Eclipse,” Zetie says. “Even though it’s contrary to their policies, they’re turning a blind eye, because the work is getting done. And why mess with something that works?”


About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].