6 March 2003 BEA, the supplier of enterprise class application server software, this week adding to the growing movement for free or low-cost developer software by offering its entire WebLogic Enterprise Platform suite free to developers for one year.
And Alfred Chuang, the company’s CEO, went on to say that, one day, even run-time licences of the core Weblogic application server – the foundation of BEA’s $1 billion revenues – could be offered free as part of a wider application platform suite.
BEA, the leader in the fast growing application server market, is not committing commercial suicide, but responding to growing competitive pressures – especially from arch-rivals IBM and Microsoft. Microsoft, which is expected to announce a free application server as part of its next version of Windows Server, owes much of its influence to the vast army of developers who pay next to nothing for their .NET development tools.
IBM, meanwhile, stepped up the pressure on BEA late in 2002 when it decided to offer its Eclipse tool to developers on a free, open source licence. Eclipse is a ‘portal style’ product that developers can use to bring together a variety of software tools and functions into one interface. HP, SAP and some 20 other companies now participate in the Eclipse initiative. IBM hopes that, after using Eclipse, developers will go on to use more sophisticated tools, such as the Rational product set.
BEA claims that its WebLogic suite, which can now be used to develop new applications as well as to integrate existing applications, is far ahead of rivals and is winning strong market acceptance. But its move to offer developers free licences demonstrates its concern that larger rivals may win more developers over by bundling free software with hardware or services.
Chuang said that BEA wants to help developers build their own community and exchange knowledge. The company derives almost all of its revenues from run-time licences. That means that it only earns revenue when products developed using its application server suite are actually used.
Chaung said the open source application servers, such as Jboss and Tomcast, present no threat to BEA. For a long list of reasons, he said, open source application servers would not catch on, as the open source Linux operating system had. He said he knows of no commercial customers basing serious, mission-critical applications on open source application servers. But he conceded that, eventually, the core application server component could become commoditised, with more importance being placed on the sophisticated process logic.