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BEA Systems Inc is back-pedaling on efforts to attract Visual Basic developers to its WebLogic Workshop Java programming environment, in what appears a strategic reversal, writes Gavin Clarke.

After 12-months' rhetoric, San Jose, California-based BEA told ComputerWire Microsoft Corp's Visual Basic developers are no longer a priority as the company now focuses on building grassroots market share against Java rivals like IBM.

"[Visual Basic] developers are not a priority for us right now. We are going deeper and broader in the Java space. It's a secondary goal," said BEA vice president of developer relations Scott Fallon during a recent interview.

Fallon insisted, though, BEA's decision does not signify a failure of the company's strategy to attract developers. "I'm not saying we failed, it's just not a primary target," he said.

The decision, though, is a reversal in policy that sees the normally evangelical BEA trade vision for reality. The company introduced its WebLogic Workshop Java web services development environment this summer, offering drag-and-drop features normally found in Microsoft Visual Studio but lacking in many Java development environments.

BEA hoped the Visual Studio-style interface would not only win over Java developers, but also Visual Basic 6.0 developers unhappy with Visual Basic.NET, launched in February.

The company's chief customer advocate Bill Coleman, who first revealed Workshop in December 2001, told ComputerWire at the time that the suite would win over frustrated Visual Basic developers who feel neglected by Microsoft. "The faster we move the more territory we occupy before Microsoft gets there," he said.

BEA executives speaking at subsequent company events backed Coleman's words stressing Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft had "broken" Visual Basic with features such as full Object Orientation (OO) in Visual Basic.NET that ended backwards compatibility.

By August, though, BEA was clearly failing to attract Visual Basic developers. The company's chief marketing officer Tod Nielsen, who also admitted BEA was 500,000 plus developers short of its goal for a one-million strong dev2dev developer community by December, lacked a single Visual Basic reference customer.

Instead, it seems, many Visual Basic developers are actually sticking with version 6.0, waiting for Visual Basic.NET to stabilize. A new version is due next April with Visual Studo.NET 2003.

Other developers dismissed issues such as backwards compatibility, saying productivity gains offered by Visual Basic.NET through OO coupled with speedier debugging in Visual Studio.NET's mean it is quicker to re-write applications than migrate code.

One senior IT consultant for American Power said: "There are just so many more things .NET can do, that we are going in that direction. Some older applications are just being re-written."

Microsoft, meanwhile, has toned down its Visual Basic.NET evangelism with a campaign this summer to encourage more conservative programmers to switch. In a 20-city road show and related online activities, Microsoft downplayed XML web services vision and OO in Visual Basic.NET and Visual Studio.NET, the thrust at launch, and instead stressed simplified development and deployment of applications across Windows, the web and mobile devices.

Previously, Windows programmers had to use a subset of Visual Studio and Visual Basic tools to deploy applications to the internet and mobile devices, making development more complex.

Ari Bixhorn, Visual Studio.NET lead product manager, said: "When we initially launched .NET we were talking about XML web services... [this summer] we showed OO was not mandatory. We showed how to build Windows applications more effectively without using OO," he said.

Economic realities are also thought to have played a part in BEA's change of strategy, as reduced IT budgets and the need for individuals to focus on finding new jobs have prevented many from experimenting with Workshop.

Rather than pilfer Microsoft of developers, BEA now seems to be targeting its resources on the more realistic target of attracting other vendors' Java developers - especially users of products from the company's number-one enterprise competitor IBM.

BEA has, in recent months, issued a stream of statistics and press releases on application servers and enterprise application integration (EAI) claiming its products are either faster or make developers more productive than if they used IBM's WebSphere.

© ComputerWire

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