COMMENTARY–One way to get developers to use a technology is to offer it at no cost . While free in the sense of beer is easy on the pocket , is it freedom of use developers crave?

Last week BEA Systems announced that it would open-source parts of its WebLogic Workshop Java development tool to the community under an initiative called the Beehive Project. WebLogic Workshop is a visual development tool to simplify Java programming — similar to Visual Studio — designed to work with BEA’s suite of products.

By open sourcing parts of WebLogic Workshop, BEA hopes to gain greater developer mindshare to it’s own products and help increase the interoperability with non-BEA software. This is not a new phenomenon in the Java tools world as IBM have successfully released Eclipse and Sun Microsystems has released NetBeans as open-source projects.

My personal opinion is that free tools are great (who doesn’t love free stuff?) . There are many tools I find useful that can be downloaded for free and if I had the inclination, I could expand and work on the source code. However, I don’t have the time or inclination to extend an IDE or developer tool and I want to use the best tools at my disposal, free or otherwise.

Love them or loathe them, Microsoft does make some great easy-to-use developer tools that drive a lot of software development around the world. Microsoft doesn’t offer Visual Studio for free but does this really matter? I don’t mean to sound like a Wall Street whiz but -time is money” in the software development world and if you have the right tools it can certainly reduce development time and costs. The opportunity cost of using some proprietary tools can simply be too great to ignore.

Many eyes will be on BEA and the buzz (no pun intended) around the Beehive Project. Maybe it will prompt other companies in the tools market such as Borland to open source Kylix to gain a greater market share? Time will tell.

While the lure of free tools is certainly an attractive proposition, it’s better to fully determine if the software meets your requirements rather than blindly taking it on in the hope of saving a few dollars.

How do you see the future market of free and open source developer tools? Will the community produce better tools or can this improvement only be derived from a closed environment with customer feedback?

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