Oracle has just released a free JDeveloper Java development tool, in an attempt to compete with the open source community Eclipse.

The company also is shipping Application Server 10g Release 3, an upgrade to its application server, bundled with a rules engine and an ESB (enterprise service bus).

With the new version of JDeveloper, the company is vying with the Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEs for the hearts of developers, said Ted Farrell, Oracle chief architect and vice president.

JDeveloper boasts enhanced features such as a visual page flow support and a BPEL designer, Farrell said. Oracle, which is a member of the Eclipse Foundation, hopes to leverage the free developer tool to promote its commercial offerings.

JDeveloper has an advantage over the Eclipse IDE in building of web applications, said one Eclipse user.

"Eclipse is very good [for coding] our base application, but when you want to do Web applications, you use some kind of plug-in," said Eric Marcoux, a technical architect at Fujitsu Consulting. The plug-ins do not offer ideal integration, according to Marcoux.

The 10g Release 3 version of JDeveloper also supports new features of the application server as well as improved Java source code refactoring. Both the application server and JDeveloper support JSF (JavaServer Faces), for building Web applications; EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) 3; and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML).

JSF enablement was applauded by users previewing JDeveloper 10 Release 3, who said more than 100 JSF components are featured. Collaboration also is a bonus in the tool.

"They built in a lot more team collaboration tools based on CVS (Concurrent Versions System)," said Les Morton Jr., a project manager at Associated Wholesalers.

Oracle is positioning its application server as the basis for its Oracle E-Business Suite applications.

"What we're releasing now is the first version of 10g Release 3, which includes things like the core application server, the rules engine, the ESB, and then later this year you'll get things like the new portal server and the new BPEL (Business Process Execution Language), which are [in] beta right now," Farrell said.

BPEL and portal offerings are planned for inclusion in the upcoming enterprise version of the application server. Developers can start with the standard version and expand to the enterprise configuration for building an application to be used by an unlimited of people.

With its application server, Oracle said it was looking to satisfy demand for a combination of middleware and the application server, Farrell said. Highlighted in the application server is support for Web Services Invocation Framework, to enable services calls via technologies such as EJB or Java Connector Architecture.

"You can talk directly to that EJB, but you still define the service using WSDL," Farrell said.

Application server prices begin at $5,000 per CPU. The application server is certified to work with open source software such as Spring, Apache Axis, Apache Struts, Apache MyFaces, Hibernate, Tapestry, Ant, Eclipse, and Log4J.