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When it comes to software, "quality" seems to be winning over "free" if Evans Data Corp's latest sampling of the development community's pulse is anything to go by.

BEA Systems' WebLogic Server has taken top overall honors in a poll of 700 developers evaluating nine Java application servers plus .NET from Microsoft.

WebLogic scored strongly in load balancing, platform support and diagnostics but - and here's the rub - badly on price. Unsurprising really for an application server that, at $10,000 per CPU, is outside the spending power of the average developer.

Bottom of EDC's poll according to price is BEA's biggest rival, WebSphere from IBM. Coming top on price were Apache's Tomcat, Red Hat's JBoss and Sun Microsystems Java System Application Server. In EDC's overall poll, Adobe Systems' JRun came second, Oracle was third, Sun fourth and Apache Tomcat came fifth.

EDC president John Andrews said while cost had been an important factor when picking software at the time open source and free software first emerged, it has since been relegated in importance. Cost is now in the "top four" according to Andrews.

This is the latest poll from EDC that sees open-source products ranking strongly but ultimately surpassed by their better-polished rivals. A poll of 1,200 developers rating 11 IDEs in July placed Eclipse and NetBeans last based on quality of features. IBM's Rational Application Development suite was top, followed by Microsoft's Visual Studio and Borland Software's Delphi.

Not that open source has much to worry about in the long-term, according to Andrews. Open source IDEs and application servers are catching up closed source produces that have had the advantage of receiving millions of dollars worth of R&D investment.

Open source is closing the features gap and out innovating closed source because it has broad input from the community instead of the backing of a single company, according to Andrews. "The speed of change we are seeing in Eclipse is amazing. They are closing the feature functionality gap at an amazing rate," Andrews said.®

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