Is there a market for Java tools?

Now that the smoke has settled on the news of Google’s acquisition of the Java GUI building expertise of Instantiations, it is probably time for wild speculation. If Google was only interested in Instantiations’ GWT Designer, they could have bought only that product and the development team behind it. But Instantiations has sold all their Java/Eclipse products and staff to Google. This could also be another proof of the fact that it is extremely hard to make real money in an eco-system that’s associated with FREE.

FREE is a price tag that makes people put aside their intelligence for a while. It works even better than CHEAP. The tools from Instantations were not really expensive, even though they are best of breed in the Java GUI Design arena. Our customers were and still are extremely satisfied with WindowBuilder, SWT Designer or Swing Designer. We’ve had very faithful customers who’ve renewed their support every year.

But we also had many prospects who wanted SWT Designer or RCP Developer but were not able to get a budget of a few hundred bucks per seat, because all their eclipse tools in use were free. So even if they saw the benefits of atool they wouldn’t want to pay for it. They’d rather throw lots of person days at the problem.

But somebody has to pay the people who build and support these great tools. They won’t do it just for the love of it (well, I know some people who might, but they don’t count 😉 ). Eclipse has been largely paid for by IBM and many other companies, and thus by their customers, so neither Java, nor Eclipse, nor any other high quality tool really is for free. You subsidize them by buying DB2 or Oracle or any other products.

So coming back to my speculation: This whole thing might just mean that all the investment in developing and supporting WindowBuilder didn’t really pay back or there were signs for a negative trend. So while many people are excited in hopes for a free WindowBuilder in the near future, there will probably also be some drawbacks. Even Google will need a business model for supporting users of these tools.

An interesting question here is: being a web centered company, where could the benefit of a rich client GUI builder be? What could be an attractive reason for Google to give away SWT Designer or SWING Designer? There even is no real competition to cause any trouble to, because WindowBuilder didn’t have much competition. No question: GWT Builder is a tool that’s attractive for Google. But Rich Client tools that work completely offline? Maybe in the form of a GUI Builder for Android gadgets…

I hope I am wrong and Google’s altruism will make them open source and/or give away WindowBuilder. Maybe there will be some support contract constellations for large customers which will finance the tool. But why, exactly, should that work better at Google than it did at Instantiations?

We’ll hopefully know more soon.