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IBM woos developers with new site

October 12, 1999
Web posted at: 10:55 a.m. EDT (1455 GMT)

by Theresa Gonzalez

(IDG) -- In an effort to compete in a playing field that includes Microsoft and Sun, on September 27 IBM officially launched its developerWorks portal site, which has been in beta since June. The free online developer resource is a concrete expression of IBM's commitment to open standards and cross-platform development.

The site includes seven zones: Open Source, Linux, Security, Unicode, Web Architecture, XML, and Java. Through its commitment to provide product- and platform-independent information, IBM aims to make this site the ultimate resource for ebusiness application developers.

According the Chris Bahr, program director for the site, developerWorks is an extension of IBM's alphaWorks developer site, which invites developers to participate early in the tools development process by giving them free access to IBM source code.

DeveloperWorks's Open Source Zone is a forum for IBM's open source projects, where developers can enhance or repair code on specific projects. For Java developers, this zone offers the Jikes Java Compiler, which converts Java source code into machine-readable code to speed Java application development.

Developers also gain access to IBM Classes for Unicode (ICU), which competes with JDK's internationalization. ICU provides support for XML processing, JavaScript, and other technologies.

Open Visualization Data Explorer is another open source project soon to be available on the site. Bahr says new open source projects will be added every three to four weeks; there is no word yet on plans to add more Java-related projects here.
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Enter the Java Zone

The Java Zone demonstrates IBM's willingness to embrace Java technology and, by extension, Java developers. (In contrast, the Microsoft Developer Network homepage shows no sign of Java support.) The zone links you to free online courses, downloads, open source code, tools, access to Java user groups (JUGS), events, and book excerpts -- all related to Java.

You will find links to how-to articles, news, and tutorials from various independent sources, including, JavaWorld, ZDNet, and TechWeb, as well as original content from IBM's own staff under the direction of former JavaWorld Editor-in-Chief Michael O'Connell.

Compared to other vendor sites, IBM seeks to downplay self-promotion in developerWorks. For example, an article on the site makes reference to the recent Volano Report, which found that Tower Technology's TowerJ beat out IBM's new JDK 1.1.8 for Linux.

"Essentially, if we feel the information is critical to developers, we'll want to cover it in developerWorks. No corporate developer resource offers the same breadth and depth of content -- free of proprietary or company-specific constraints," says O'Connell.

DeveloperWorks also allows you to search the Web for Java-related material through IBM's jCentral, which provides more than 360,000 items of interest to Java developers. Less than one percent of that content is IBM's, according to Bahr. Through jCentral, developers can search other developer Web sites, such as EarthWeb's Gamelan Java resource site, all public Web sites, and other corporate Web sites, such as Sun's Java Developer Connection site, as well as other IBM sites.

What does IBM hope to gain by making this free resource available?

"We're trying to use developerWorks as a way to have a conversation with our audience and then quickly act on the feedback we get," says Gina Poole, director of the site.

"In the beginning, we saw that developers were largely focused on Linux, open source, and Web architecture, so we immediately created zones for those technologies. We hope to continue the conversation with developers about open standards, emerging technologies, cross-platform development -- to beef up the zones we have and grow the interactive content of the site," adds Poole.

The site allows developers to tap into IBM resources; for example, Java developers can access source code created by some 3,000 Java developers at IBM.

The playing field

IBM's developer portal site does have its work cut out for it as it competes with already-established developer sites. It's currently ranked as the number three portal site on's list of most visited developer Websites, behind Microsoft and Sun. Considering its advertising campaign has just been launched this week, though, this is an impressive rating.

The biggest difference between developerWorks and other vendor-sponsored developer sites is its focus on open standards and product- and platform-independent content.

"Sun and other vendors still see the developer world in a relatively narrow sense, focusing on content that promotes their own products and technologies directly and not mentioning other products and technologies," says O'Connell.

"IBM, in contrast, embraces with developerWorks an open, cross-platform, standards-based focus, which means our content is broadly relevant -- even to developers who are not interested in IBM products and services," maintains O'Connell. "We aren't confined to the company's product line. This is a rather bold step, especially for a veteran company like IBM," he adds.

Ultimately, in exchange for all this free content, IBM hopes developers will choose to create applications that run on IBM hardware and software. As O'Connell says, developerWorks "gives IBM exposure to broader developer community and showcases IBM expertise."

Only time will tell, however, if developers will open up to IBM's offerings.

Prior to joining the JavaWorld team, Theresa Gonzalez was the managing editor at Software Development magazine. Currently, she is an associate editor at JavaWorld.

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