JDeveloper, Free Tools and Open Source

by William Crawford

I just downloaded Oracle 9i JDeveloper last week, and I'm very impressed. Previous releases had simply been a rebranded version of Borland/Inprise's JBuilder, and I never saw much reason to not simply use JBuilder. I've never had a lot of luck with rebranded software, particularly when the original development team wasn't responsible for the new version.

That's no longer an issue, as the new version is a ground up rewrite, in Java, and has the full set of Enterprise level development tools, including an embedded copy of OC4J (the Orion application server licensed by Oracle) and easy integration with certain application servers (Oracle 9iAS and BEA Web Logic are represented; IBM WebSphere, perhaps not so mysteriously, is not). There's integration with various version control systems (including CVS), code analysis tools, a profiling and management system, and a workspace/project management system that works very well for managing not only Java code but Web Application resources as well. Integration with Oracle is, as to be expected, very tight, allowing viewing of tables and data as well as full editing of stored procedures, triggers and other code objects within the database. Overall, the feature set looks equivalent to the latest JBuilder Enterprise or equivalent.

Stability is great, too; in the last week of using it full time I haven't experienced a single crash or hangup. On the flip side, I have had trouble with the CVS integration, but it appears to be a configuration fluke on my particular workstation. There's also only partial support for J2EE 1.3, although there is a Servlets 2.3 runtime which will tide a lot of people over. The profiling tools only run on Windows.

That's all great, but the really interesting thing about the new JDeveloper is the licensing. JDeveloper is a free download, while JBuilder 6 Enterprise will set you back a few thousand dollars. Support is available for $995, but, frankly, I haven't needed it. It looks like they're trying very hard to reach not just the general Oracle developer community, but the Open Source development community as well. The web site includes a How-To article describing how to connect directly to SourceForge.net project repositories via SSH and CVS.

It looks Oracle is trying to build up good will in the independent developer community, and maybe sell a few of their other tools (like their new SCM system, as well as the database and app server) into commercial development groups. They may even be trying to spur some Open Source projects built around an Oracle core. That's probably the best remaining strategy for making money off open source software.

There are a few areas where JDeveloper can lock unsuspecting developers into an Oracle-only solution (the Web Services integration frameworks and the Business Objects support both require Oracle provided libraries), but there's nothing inherently wrong with a server vendor making it easy to use their servers. It might prevent some people from using the tool, but that's really no skin off Larry Ellison's back. Sun, with Forte and NetBeans, doesn't have that same flexibility, since their goal is to grow Java as a platform, not to sell databases.

Borland has been trying to crack the middleware business for years, and had built themselves a nice position on the top of the Java development tools heap. I wonder their response to this will be.

Is Oracle end-rushing the Open Source community?