May 20, 2004

Commentary: BEA a little late to the open source party

Author: Chris Preimesberger

According to all the market research firms, BEA Systems has been a leader in the proprietary enterprise application server business for quite some time. In fact, it held the top sales spot in the Java application server market with its WebLogic product line over IBM and Oracle for several years, owning from 25 to 35 percent of the market. Customers say products and services from BEA are good and reliable -- albeit a bit pricey. So why is it suddenly giving away its Workshop toolset code?

The conventional thinking is suddenly changing at BEA. The San Jose, Calif.-based company was never known for being very involved in open source. So it was a bit surprising when the news came out Wednesday that BEA Systems has announced plans to begin an open-source initiative called Beehive Project, something the company calls "the industry's first easy-to-use, open source foundation for building service-oriented architecture (SOA) and enterprise Java-based applications."

(Comment: So, up to now, the world hasn't had an open source foundation for building Web services and Java-based apps? I guess this puts Eclipse, Forte for Java, and NetBeans -- for starters -- in the category of chopped liver.)

Sections of toolkit code to be released

WebLogic Workshop is the company's Visual Basic knockoff toolset for Java programming. In Beehive, sections of the Workshop toolset code will be released this summer under an open-source license modeled on BSD's. Naturally, the idea of the new project is to entice a whole new group of developers into utilizing these tools to develop apps that run on its WebLogic servers.

BEA said the Beehive code will be updated regularly by BEA engineers. The code will include Java annotations, controls (standing components), Web services, and Java Page Flows, which allow for increased interoperability within systems. It hasn't been decided which organization will host the open source project, but SourceForge and Collabnet are thought to be among the leaders.

"WebLogic Workshop consists of two major technologies: a powerful integrated development environment and an application framework to abstract many of the tedious tasks associated with Java development," said Scott Dietzen, CTO of BEA Systems. "By open sourcing the application framework, we can help provide a way for Java developers, as well as our ISV partners, to build fully portable applications more productively ... Time will prove these same technologies critical to the standardization of inter-application orchestration via work-flows and Web-flows."

The key words here: "More productively."

The motive: Market leader has changed

So what's going on? What caused this sudden turn of events? Why would an industry-leading IT company with more than 15,000 customers -- including the majority of the Fortune Global 500 -- which has been doing its own thing for nine years suddenly see the open source light?

Answer: According to the 2003 application server market report released May 12 by IDG Research, BEA Systems is no longer the Number 1 proprietary enterprise app server seller in the world. That honor now belongs to its bitter rival, IBM. The new score: Big Blue, 29 percent of the market; BEA, 26 percent.

BEA cruised along for years selling and licensing its homegrown products, enjoying success under this conventional software development model, but things change. IBM, which for all its conservatism and corporate stuffiness was still the first big corporation to see the value of Linux, is now the leader in the specialty field BEA used to own.

The light bulb goes on at BEA this week, seven days after the new market figures are released: Open source! That's how we fight back!

Where the heck have you been, BEA?

BEA is still a strong Number 2 in the app server race. Open sourcing its toolkit is a good move for everybody concerned. But IBM has a four-year head start and lots of momentum, and it will be hard to catch.


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