What are IBM's plans for VAJ beyond version 4.0?

Eric Rizzo

Initially (spring-summer of 2001) there was much confusion surrounding the status and future of VisualAge for Java and the new technology IBM announced recently named WebSphere Studio Workbench (aka the Exclipse open-source project). Luckily, we were both able at JavaOne last week to spend some time talking with IBM representatives at the booth and in a somewhat intimate BOF session (where the marketing and product manager for the VAJ product line was speaking and taking questions), as well as chatting with some non-IBM people who are are privy to a lot of information that the general community is not (IBM partners, basically). In the interest of helping the VAJ user community, here is a summary of the info we found, followed by some commentary/editorial from our perspectives:

The WebSphere Studio Workbench (WSW) is not a development tool or product, per se, but a "tool builder's platform" (IBM's words). It is a framework and set of fundamental services into which any tool builder (including IBM) will plug in a specific tool, such as a code browser/editor, an HTML authoring tool, an EJB development environment, a developer version of an app server, etc. Users will be able to configure WSW with a "perspective" of just the tools they need, instead of being forced to load a whole, bloated suite of dev tools they aren't using. IBM is building this workbench/platform/tool-builder's tool, implemented almost entirely in Java, and will subsequently open-source it, including the small portion that is platform specific C/C++ code (about 1% of the code, according to IBM), once the initial version is out and running on Windoze (IBM stated that Linux will be the first alternate platform that they will port it to).

The first tools that will sit on top of this platform will be application developer and web developer "IDE's", developed by IBM. As best as we can tell, these are tools similar in nature to VAJ and WebSphere Studio (although the exact level of VAJ feature support available in the first version is not clear). One of the fundamental features of these tools will be support for different JDKs on a per-project basis. It is clear, however, that nobody, including IBM, is saying these early tools on WSW will be able to replace VAJ. It appears that WSW will be a file-based platform, although there is some confusion as to whether or not the code storage mechanism is also pluggable - if it were, it could be adapted to a database format such as ENVY (the VAJ repository). But some architecture diagrams presented by IBM suggest this will not be possible.

IBM will be bundling WSW and these "IDE" tools in beta form with the VAJ 4.0 Enterprise Edition package. When the 1.0 version of WSW is released, VAJ 4.x will be bundled with that (IBM stated that WSW is planned for release sometime in 2001, probably 4Q, but "plans do sometimes change"). IBM made it very clear upon questioning that there is no current way for VAJ Professional or Entry users to gain access to WSW, even as VADD subscribers, without purchasing VAJ 4.0 Enterprise when it is made available end of July. The IBM "PartnerWorld for Developers" site indicates that some members can download a preview of the WSW platform, but this has not been confirmed.

IBM has also announced the Eclipse project, which is the open-source platform on which WSW/WSAD is based. You can learn more about Eclipse at http://www.eclipse.org

Those are the facts, now here is our take on the situation:
VAJ 4.0 will not be significantly different from v3.5.3. IBM may just be releasing VAJ 4.0 to keep in synch with the WebSphere version number. The product/marketing manager stated that "VAJ will continue to exist as a product for at least two years." This means that VAJ as we know it will continue to be supported, but it is unknown whether new features or even new JDK levels would be added. In fact, the IBM representatives showed a lack of touch with the community by asking at the BOF session how many people in the room actually needed/wanted JDK 1.3 support in VAJ. It seems baffling that IBM could be so out of touch with the needs of the users, but the IBMers reaction suggested as much. Our only guess as to how this could happen is that IBM was judging JDK 1.3 need from newsgroup posts and the feature request database. We see one or two JDK 1.3 newsgroup posts per week, which is barely noise overall. Of course, most of us are savvy enough not to add hundreds of "me too!" responses. We are planning a strategy for informing IBM exactly how much need/desire there is (more below).

It is quite clear that IBM has not yet made up its mind about continuing to evolve VAJ separate from WSW. It also seems quite clear to us that if IBM hopes to migrate the existing VAJ user base to WSW eventually, they had better take care of the current needs of the VAJ community (namely, further JDK support and continued VAJ feature development) lest they have no user base left to migrate in the future.

So how can we get the message to IBM?
We urge you to find who in your company handles the relationship and/or purchases with IBM and put pressure on them to indicate your desire for the continued evolution of VAJ (including JDK 1.3 support) until WSW is mature enough to really be useful. It seems to us that IBM has not yet made any final decisions as to the future of VAJ, so we need to send the message to IBM, or we risk having the tools we use atrophy into oblivion (can anyone say "OS/2"?)

Eric Rizzo
Scott Stanchfield
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The above was taken from a newsgroup post in June, 2001. It was followed up by lengthy discussion. Here is a link to one of the threads, but there were others.

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