WebLogic: How it all began - An interview with one of the co-founders: Laurie Pitman

WebLogic: How it all began - An interview with one of the co-founders: Laurie Pitman

Published on: Category: Oracle

All those years that I am working with WebLogic, the BEA and Oracle era are the most well known about WebLogic evolving into a worldwide Enterprise platform for Java applications, being used by multinationals around the globe. But how did it all begin? Besides from the spare info you find on some Internet pages, I was eager to hear it in person from one of the founders of WebLogic back in 1995, before the BEA era, Laurie Pitman.

Four young people, Carl Resnikoff, Paul Ambrose, Bob Pasker, and Laurie Pitman, became friends and colleagues about the time of the first release of Java in 1995. Between the four of them, they had an MA in American history, an MA in piano, an MS in library systems, a BS in chemistry, and a BS in computer science. They had come together kind of serendipitously, interested in building some web tools exclusively in Java for the emerging Internet web application market. They found many things to like about each other, some overlap in our interests, but also a lot of well-placed differences which made a partnership particularly interesting. They made it formal in January 1996 by incorporating.

The four of them were always committed to building exclusively in Java, and never considered using any other language. It’s hard to understand today what that meant back then; Java then was perceived as a cute but basically useless early web language for hand-waving applets. Nobody was building real applications in Java in 1995 or 1996; maybe not even in 1997. But the group saw its potential: that it was a first-class programming language, write-once, run-everywhere, which at the advent of Internet computing was incomprehensibly powerful . . . that one could write a single app that could run on a whole platform of otherwise unrelated, incompatible servers located in multiple physical places. As they began to construct this integrated multitier platform, the beginnings of what would eventually be called the “application server”, they still didn’t know how to sell it. Everyone called the stuff they were doing “Java tools,” and at that time, “tools” were boring and extremely unlikely to attract any serious investor money.

Surviving these days was easy, because there was no need to take huge investments. At least at first (in 1996), it didn’t matter that investors were not interested; each of the founders had enough financial independence so that they were willing to work on an almost non-profit base, and that got them through the first year or so of development. One of the things that made it different from other startups was that they were already selling some very successful products – think JDBC drivers for Oracle, Sybase, and MSSQL. Still, they believed that the lifecycle for those drivers was short, and needed to get a visionary product out. (As it turns out, the WebLogic JDBC drivers are still in use, almost 20 years later.)

Their skills were various: Paul and Carl both had extensive database experience; Bob had written sophisticated transaction processing and networking apps in the late eighties for DEC in the financial district in NYC, and Laurie had GUI design and writing experience. In that period they talked endlessly, experimenting, writing, tossing ideas back and forth. Either remote, or when in person, it was often atCaffe Roma on Columbus Ave. In San Francisco, because they didn’t mind if they spent hours plugged into a wall socket for a laptop (which was unusual in 1996). It got to be so regular that to this day, a whole host of early adopters call the place “Cafe WebLogic.”

Paul and Carl had written really good, bullet-proof JDBC drivers that were spreading like wildfire over the Internet. It was marketed  as “dbKona,” after the coffee (Java) theme. Then they began to integrate the drivers into a bigger application, a 3-tier server that separated the application layer from the transportation and session layers. Lots of ideas came up about extending the functionality of what already existed. For example, they knew that just being able to pull database data wasn’t much use unless you could display it on a web page, so they wrote a set of Java classes for generating HTML (HTMLKona).

Then it seemed like a good idea to include a Java server to process the servlets as well. But you needed security, and a management console, etc. etc. The first real server release was T3Kona in early 1996, which included a webserver with security and transaction processing, the JDBC drivers for interacting with databases, and the HTMLKona classes to create servlets. From the first release, it was always their aim to create a plug-and-play environment to make it easy to build vertical enterprise apps on top of the multitiered server infrastructure.

Back in 1996 and 1997 when they were developing the initial WebLogic software, Java EE was not yet invented. There was basic Java, and JDBC, but everything else was as of yet uninvented. In fact, some of the later development of the Java language spec came out of how they were pushing the Java envelope for enterprise apps at WebLogic. They wrote classes to do transaction processing, threading, concurrency, security, and memory management before Sun designed J2EE. They wrote classes that did what EJB and RMI did long before Sun released them, and  rewrote all of the code to incorporate the changes in the language.

They were always committed to total integration with the most current Java release, because in the long run, that made their jobs easier. Their aim was always to build easy-to-use, off-the-shelf software for creating very reliable web apps, and integrating the latest version of the Java spec always brought with it interoperability, enhanced networking, security, better performance; and it reduced our company need to write those things into our software – and then support them. They always opted to support whatever Sun added to the Java spec. Sometimes they actively participated in making sure that certain things got added. But it was a really good collaboration.

The team moved into  first office space in the financial district of San Francisco in late 1996 at 180 Montgomery St. It consisted of 4 offices and a conference room, and no desks, but a few chairs.

At a company party in December 1996 (picture is a link from Laurie):

As they began to grow, they started hiring; within a few months  about 10 engineers, and those early WebLogic hires were some heavy hitting talent: Peter Seibel, Sam Pullara, Anno Langen, Dean Jacobs (deceased a few months ago). Dave Parker became President to run the business, and he saw potential for success .

The company kept growing and growing, so by February of 1997 they moved to some office space at 417 Montgomery, and it became home for almost a year. About that time they hired Scott Dietzen, and they really began trying to market more effectively.  New people came in like Dave Brown from the Java group at Sun, and Adam Messinger, and a dozen other really talented engineers. They acquired a sales department, including a satellite office on Park Avenue in NYC, another in Austin, TX, and another in Boston.

At the time, their  huge customer base primarily existed of engineers and developers all over the world, particularly in the financial and information processing industries.

“Customers” were not end-users, but software engineers. They treated their customer base of engineers as friends and collaborators, and many of them became loyal and vocal enthusiasts of the WebLogic platform. This could be one reasons  the product became so successful. Paul Ambrose was still spending hours a day on the phone and in email answering engineering questions. They also had thousands of pages of javadocs and documentation, hundreds of sophisticated code examples, written for engineers by engineers.

Paul at 417 Montgomery on the phone (picture from Lauries site)

By late 1997, engineers named Sam Pullara, Dave Brown, and Peter Seibel drifted in and admitted they had come up with a WebLogic server plug-in for thin-client “push” apps-which was the sole product offering that one of them extremely overfunded, marketing-rich and software-thin competitors were selling for a huge licensing fee. Sam, Brown, and Peter had packaged that functionality into a few WebLogic classes over the weekend.

By mid-1998, the market was changing. There was a lot of consolidation going on. WebLogic owned about 70% of the application server market, but Sun had just bought NetDynamics, and IBM Websphere was becoming a heavy hitter. WebLogic needed to partner with an 800-pound gorilla if it was going to have any long-term staying power in the coalescing market.

This was the beginning of the BEA acquisition. BEA, among others, came to them. In a period of 2-3 weeks all was set. It was a very amiable transaction; they all had the same goal in mind, which was to enable WebLogic to go to the next level of authority and influence in the software world.

Well the rest of the story is well known, over the years up to the current release, Oracle WebLogic 12.1.2

All text, with some minor adjustments was told to me by Laurie Pitman. I would like to thank her for her huge contribution, as well as the other co-founders, and I hope you have pleasure reading this sort of a history lesson  I am looking forward to meet Laurie and friends next month in San Francisco.

Publicatiedatum: 16 augustus 2013

Michel Schildmeijer
About the author Michel Schildmeijer

Michel started his career as a medical officer in the Royal Dutch Airforce, with a focus on pharma. After the air force, he continued in pharma, followed by time working in clinical pharmacology. While there, he transitioned to IT by learning UNIX and MUMPS, and developed a system for managing patients’ medical records. As his career developed, his responsibility shifted from a deep technical perspective to a more visionary role. At the end of 2011, Michel authored a book on WebLogic Administration for beginners. He joined Qualogy in April 2012 where he expanded his repertoire significantly, serving a wide range of customers with his knowledge about Java Application Servers, Middleware and Application Integration. He also increased his multiple-industry knowledge in his role as Solutions or IT architect by working for customers in a range of sectors, including financials, telecom, public transportation and government organizations. In 2012, he received the IT Industry-recognized title of Oracle ACE for being an ambassador and community leader in his area of expertise. In 2019, this was enhanced to Oracle ACE Director. Michel is asked regularly to speak about technology and the impact of innovation at national and international conferences such as KubeCon, Oracle OpenWorld, Groundbreakers Developers Tours and others. He contributes actively to the OpenSource community and solutions regarding containerization, CI/CD and DevOps. In October 2021, Michel took an exciting step in his career by becoming Business Unit Manager for Qualogy Managed Services. While he still has a finger on the pulse in terms of technology, he is expanding his scope by combining his experience with the new insights gained in his new position. Read more via blog: https://bit.ly/3fAxrqf | Medium: https://mschildmeijer.medium.com/ | Books: Oracle Weblogic Server 11gR1 PS2: Administration Essentials: https://bit.ly/3IhALmf | Oracle WebLogic Server 12c: First Look1: https://bit.ly/31olbpj

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