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Saturday, August 26, 2006, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

The second coming of Apple's WebObjects

Apple Computer on Thursday disclosed plans to open parts of its WebObjects Java application server to the developer community, ending more than a year of speculation on the subject.

In an email to a public WebObjects mailing list, Apple's Daryl Lee revealed for the first time that the company has formed a new strategy aimed at evolving WebObjects into best server-side runtime environment possible.

Due to Apple's decision to deprecate its Cocoa Java bridge with the release of Xcode 2.4, Lee said several WebObjects developer applications, including WebObjects Builder, WOALauncher, and EOModeler, are also being deprecated. However, he assured WebObjects developers in his email that deprecation does not mean that support is immediately ending for these tools. 

"Fully supported versions of these tools shipped in August with the new version of Xcode 2.4 and Apple will continue to support them well into the future," he wrote. "Any code built using these deprecated tools will continue to run on Leopard so your applications will not break."

Moving forward, Lee said Apple will be placing its engineering efforts firmly into the runtime engine of WebObjects, but will otherwise open and making public all standards and formats that WebObjects depends upon. Among the company's goals are improving performance, manageability and standards compliance.

Lee also said that Apple's software engineers will be increasing their efforts to make sure WebObjects works well with ANT and the most popular IDEs, including Apple's Xcode and Eclipse — a free, open source platform-independent software framework for delivering rich-client applications.

"We are making these changes with the clear goal of boosting WebObjects, allocating resources to improve the platform at a more rapid pace, and to better react to your needs," he told developers. "We look forward to delivering to you a vibrant, continually-improving WebObjects."

When NeXT Software released WebObjects in March 1996, it was billed as the world's first object-oriented Web application server. Despite being quickly adopted by large companies like Disney and Dell as part of their e-commerce strategy, however, WebObjects began to languish after Apple acquired NeXT the following year.

Today, Apple is itself the biggest client for WebObjects, relying on the technology to power its online Apple Store, .Mac internet services and the iTunes Music Store.

Rumors that Apple planned take WebObjects open source gained considerable attention last year when employees working the show floor of the company's developers conference were overheard discussing the prospect. During a private session at this year's developers conference, plans to unlock the majority WebObjects's code were openly discussed.