Creator for the Corporate Coder

I dropped by the 2005 TopCoder Open a few of weeks ago to watch some elite programmers cutting code like katana-swinging samurai in a big meeting room in the Santa Clara Marriott. But mostly I was there to talk with some folks from Sun Microsystems, which sponsored the event, and to snag a free bear claw. The Sun reps were there to give a talk on JavaServer Faces, demo a preview of the upcoming Java Studio Creator 2 IDE, and scope the joint for bad-ass coders.

Sun senior software architect Joe Nuxoll did the Creator demo, and David Folk, who manages that product line, handled the marketing pitch with me afterward. Folk knows his stuff, and it was a good pitch. He talked about how Creator provides a rapid, visual, drag-and-drop environment for building Web apps, includes a set of JSF components, supports AJAX through a component library, and is currently free to users of the NetBeans platform and members of the Sun Developer Network (which is free to join). He also talked about the primarly target audience for Creator, a class of programmer sometimes referred to as the ''corporate developer.''

''When I say 'corporate developer,' I'm not talking about someone who is necessarily technically unsophisticated,'' Folk told me. ''I'm talking about someone who is willing to trade some level of control for productivity.''

In other words, Visual Basic-type developers.

I asked Nuxoll, who is the lead Creator engineer (and who, I swear, looks like Tom Cruise, but without the jumping up and down and the railing against serotonin uptake inhibitors), about this market, and he made no bones about Sun's goals: ''We want to move corporate developers from the Microsoft platform onto the Java platform.''

Creator 2 looks to be a responsive, easy-to-use IDE, especially for Web applications. And there is a substantial and fervent NetBeans community out there (Creator 2 is built on NetBeans 4.1, the late-June update of the open-source IDE). But really, how much of an impact can the tool have on that market? I suggested to Nuxoll that the plan seemed especially David-and-Goliath-like given the then-pending überlaunch of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005 IDE. He was unfazed by my observation. The VS05 launch, he said, would create an ''inflection point.''

A-wuh?

In Sunspeak, an inflection point is a soft spot that forms in a competitor's flank when that company presents its customers with a big decision—basically, to upgrade or not to upgrade. In other words, this line of reasoning goes, what Visual Basic 6.0 and Visual Basic.NET users are actually facing right now is a choice between ramping up for the new version of the Microsoft IDE and jumping to Java, given comparable learning curves. With this soft spot in its sights, Sun plans to ''put some muscle'' into a NetBeans push over the next few months, Nuxoll said.

Since that meeting, announcements have been gushing out of Sun, both around its tools and its other software and systems. On the tooling front:

- The Tokyo JavaOne conference, held last week at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan, saw the announcement of Sun's UML 2.0-supporting Java Studio Enterprise 8 IDE, which the company is giving away free to SDN members.

- On Wednesday, the company launched its Sun Studio 11 dev tool for high-performance computing environments, another freebie for SDN members. Studio 11 targets the HPC crowd, which constists mainly of C/C++ and Fortran developers. In a related announcement, the company cut the ribbon on a new testing and benchmarking facility in Hillsboro, OR, for large-scale HPC clusters.

I don't know how seriously to take this inflection-point business. Microsoft's hide seems pretty thick to me. VB developers outnumber Java jocks by… well… a lot. A common estimate I see is 18 million, of which about 6 million are professionals. Sun pegs the Java developer community at more than 4.5 million members.

On the other hand, there is something of a revolt afoot in the VB ranks. The Microsoft product train is definitely .NET-bound, and the company's decision to cease development of its BASIC language platform with version 6 was apparently a fairly jarring turn of events for more than a few Visual Basic 6.0 developers, many of whom believe that Visual Studio.NET, VB6's successor and VS05's predecessor, breaks pre-existing VB apps. A long list of Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) seem to have added their names to an online petition demanding that the company continue development and support of ''classic'' Visual Basic. Some market watchers are reporting that the number of VB developers worldwide is in decline against rising numbers of Java developers, though I have yet to see a solid connection between these statistics and the VB6 controversy. Even the disgruntled VB programmers aren't talking about jumping to Java.

But who knows; enterprise Java is the preferred platform for developing large-scale distributed apps in organizations of any size. J2EE (I mean, Java EE) is everywhere. So is its influence. And if you think about it, Sun probably doesn't need to take a very big bite out of the VB pie to get a nice sugar rush.

Stay tuned.

BTW: Nuxoll and a bunch of Sun people are blogging on the subject of Creator here.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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