These days, when you buy an application server, you’re often buying into a development environment.

That’s not to say you can’t use a different product for development if you choose. In most cases, it’s possible, especially since many application servers are built around Java 2 Enterprise Edition

(J2EE), and there are lots of tools available for the platform. The big question is, is it worth the trouble when you can get a nicely integrated system with all of the tools needed to deploy to the vendor’s application server in a tidy package?

Conspiracy theorists would say it’s an evil plot to lock you into the vendor’s platform. Less suspicious types would counter it’s simply a way to help you get up and running more quickly. They would also say this explains the integrated Web servers and other conveniences we are increasingly seeing in these products.

It’s likely a bit of both. Consider, for example, IBM WebSphere. Attached to the brand are not only naked application servers, but business integration products (using application servers, among other technologies), e-commerce products and myriad other items to help run all facets of a business. WebSphere Studio is the development component, and while nowhere in its promotional material does it say it’s required for WebSphere development, its branding and toolset make it a great candidate for the task. As well, WebSphere Application Server for Developers delivers a convenient application server run-time environment on every developer’s desktop.

Oracle takes things a step further, including five Oracle JDeveloper 10g licences for each processor licensed for its application server. JDeveloper happens to be its integrated Java, XML, and Web services environment for developing, debugging and deploying Web services. That, plus the fact that Oracle’s development training uses JDeveloper, is a powerful incentive for application server customers to stay in the fold.

Sun says upfront its application server is a development platform as well.

“”The Sun Java System Application Server (formerly Sun ONE Application Server) provides a Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE platform) 1.3 and 1.4 compatible

platform for developing and delivering Java Web services. It integrates a powerful application development environment with the Sun Java Studio Enterprise that increases developer productivity and speeds overall time to market.””

You will notice that, unless you’re looking at Microsoft, which touts Visual Studio .NET as the development platform of choice for its application server, one common factor that emerges is the almost universal acceptance of Java (specifically J2EE) as the development language for application servers. Sun even provides a J2EE Platform.

In fact, “”platform”” is the term du jour for application servers. They’ve grown beyond their original function and now are loaded with features, and perform tasks that would probably startle the folks who came up with the concept.

Forrester Research has seen the writing on the wall, and is now specifically measuring application server platforms. In its description of its Application Server Platforms TechRankings, Forrester says: “”Application servers have evolved into broad-based platforms that encompass not only J2EE or .NET application development, but also portals and application integration.””

In other words, application software will evolve to take advantage of the new twists on an old idea. And to ease the transition, development environments will have to follow. It means re-education of developers and revamping of methodologies, because as things stand today, some components, such as Web services, are not fulfilling their vision.

Are the conspiracy theorists right? Sort of. Faced with the options of spending a lot of money on separate development tools, or using the set already attached to their application server, companies will often take the financially more attractive route and use the server vendor’s product.

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