Sun scoops up Forte to pad tools offerings

Sun Microsystems will pay $540 million in stock for Forte Software, an Oakland, California-based application server and associated Java tools vendor, in a bid to improve Sun's tools and application server offerings.

The addition of Forte to Sun's past acquisition of application server maker NetDynamics and its tight partnership with America Online on the Netscape Application Server (NAS) -- now the iPlanet server -- may seem redundant, but analysts point out the Forte tools and new pure Java run time may be just what Sun needs to fill out its application server and Java tools portfolio.

Arriving in September, Forte's pure Java SynerJ server is designed to allow teams of developers to collaborate on component development and assembly, as well as provide a 100% Pure Java run-time deployment platform, officials said.

SynerJ aids in developer collaboration through features such as a repository-driven component management system; secure configuration management; and version control of source, binary, and third-party components, as well as collaborative development testing and distributed debugging of code among developers and across machines, Forte officials said.

Daryl Plummer, an Internet applications analyst at the Gartner Group, in Atlanta, calls the SynerJ suite an innovative and effective development environment that will well complement Sun's products, which have needed better tools.

Former Sun executive Alan Baratz said in June the company was actively shopping for such tools, and companies such as Symantec and Inprise were often cited as potential targets for acquisition.

Sun said Monday it will offer 0.3 shares of its stock for each of Forte's shares, or about $22 per share, for a total of $540 million based on Friday's stock prices.

Forte will keep its name as a subsidiary of Sun after the deal is completed by year's end, Sun officials said.

Currently, the Sun-Netscape Alliance is working to jibe the NAS and NetDynamics servers, neither of which has a native Java run time, to produce the iPlanet line of servers and associated tools, which is due by the first quarter of 2000 and was to become a fully Java platform. The iPlanet enterprise-class server was to initially rely mostly on the NAS code base for its run time and rely heavily on the NetDynamics tools.

Now, with the Forte acquisition, the move to a pure Java run time may come more quickly and help meld the three servers together to provide a set of robust Java tools for creating enterprise-class, Java- and Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB)-based Internet-commerce applications.

However, this most recent Sun acquisition fuels questions of why Sun bought NetDynamics in 1998 at all, and whether it may have paid a dear price to align with the AOL-owned NAS products, according to analysts. Indeed, speculation on faulty merger logic mounted to explain Baratz's unexpected resignation earlier this month.

Forte's SynerJ suite contains three modules: SynerJ Developer, a stand-alone development environment; SynerJ Server, an EJB deployment environment; and SynerJ Deployer, which can map distributed Java and EJB applications into mixed environments.

The server supports EJB 1.1, including container- or JavaBean-managed persistence and so-called Session Beans. In addition, the server supports some of the features of the Java 2 Enterprise Edition set of specifications, which are formally due by year's end.

All of the tools can be used with other Java products to let developers mix and match Java code within the Forte environment and deploy them on the front or back end.

SynerJ also supports the CORBA object standard and Component Object Model, and includes Extensible Markup Language and Internet Inter-ORB Protocol integration adapters, as well as adapters for several leading application packages and middleware technologies.

Although Forte will continue to support its proprietary application development environment, named Tool, and will launch Tool, Release 4.0, in the middle of 2000, the company had planned to emphasise Java-based development because it is a more open standard. The Sun acquisition certainly makes that very likely.