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Sun opens modeling tools

Eclipse 'just 'ain't that good'

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Tools for UML, XML and service orchestrated architectures (SOAs) will become the latest features in Sun Microsystems Java Studio Enterprise suite to be open sourced.

Sun is to release its two-way Unified Modeling Language (UML) modeler, XML infrastructure and visual editing tools, and tools to design and orchestrate business processes using Business Execution Process Language (BPEL), and build composite applications. The software, part of the planned Java Studio Enterprise 9.0, will made available for download as part of Sun's NetBeans Enterprise Pack.

By open sourcing its UML tools Sun is continuing its push against the rival Eclipse open source tools framework. The Eclipse Foundation has pushed UML and model-driven architectures for some time via the Eclipse Tools Project. The project encompasses an open source implementation of UML, called UML2, and a modeling framework and code-generation facility to build tools and applications that use a structured data model - called the Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF).

Dan Roberts, director of marketing for developer tools at Sun, claimed that Sun is offering the community "mature tools" that are "functionally superior to what you get if you go to the Eclipse project."

Roberts told The Register: "The difference is they are not integrated into the IDE [Integrated Development Environment] at a deep level. That enables reverse engineering of code to the source and allows tight integration with the tool of choice." The BPEL orchestration component features tools acquired with SeeBeyond Technologies last summer.

Sun is also providing the tools with an implementation of the company's specification for Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) 5.0, developed under Project Glassfish, as part of the NetBeans pack. JEE 5.0 forms the basis of Sun's Java application server, so NetBeans users are getting an application server with their BPEL tools, which enabling thes to build and de-bug processes while running on the server.

Roberts said Sun is open sourcing the Java Studio Enterprise features to help developers and encourage ISVs to build plug-ins for the tools, extending the NetBeans ecosystem. More than 115 organizations are members of Eclipse, with many more building plug-ins to the platform.

"Sun wants... to continue to grow the NetBeans community, and create more and more opportunities for add-in partners and developers to build extensions and plug ins that extend the functionality and create their own ecosystem around NetBeans," he said.

This could all be quite academic. UML has experienced something of a downturn in its fortunes, having been pitched in the beginning as the solution to designing and engineering all kinds of systems. However, systems architects have settled on using just subsets of UML - not the full language - to suit specific needs.

Sun sees a continuing need for UML modeling - along with XML tools - in areas where developers must architect large-scale systems and manage growing volumes of XML files. That means systems integration companies, mission-critical computing, and government.

Answering the age-old question of how Sun can make any money from open sourcing yet more of software, Roberts claimed Sun would cash in by lowering the barriers of pricing on UML, XML and SOA tools and by opening the closed source development process. "We have an opportunity to capitalize and monetize these communities to grow and develop," he said. He expects Sun to make money down the line, selling runtimes, systems and services. ®

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