Developers are buzzing because Apple has decided to make WebObjects available for free within its Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" developer tools.

WebObjects is a Java-based application-server and builder for Web publishing and internal application building. It's often used for ecommerce applications, and can even produce pure Java applications that can be run on non-Mac platforms.

From $50K to free

The company released WebObjects deployment software for free with Xserves (as part of the Mac OS X Server package) in June 2002, but the move to a wider distribution is regarded as significant - not least because until May 2000 the software cost $50,000.

WebObjects 5.3 now ships with Xcode v2.1 and needs Mac OS X 10.4 to run. Commenting on this one experienced enterprise developer called the move, "amazing".

iTMS and the NeXT connection

The software has historical importance to Apple-watchers: it was originally released in March 1996 - but not by Apple. In fact, WebObjects was developed by NeXT Computer and became Apple's software only when that company acquired Steve Jobs' second computer company later that year.

While not software on the tip of every Mac users tongue, WebObjects sits behind several significant implementations - the most famous current example being Apple's iTunes Music Store.

WebObjects has been widely adopted by some of the world's largest companies, it drive the original Dell store; and has been exploited by Disney, Deutsche Bank and the BBC. Apple also uses it within its own online Apple Store.

The applications built using the software can run using a browser, as fully interactive stand alone Java desktop applications, or even as standards-based Web services.

Released at WWDC, WebObjects 5.3, "provides an updated WebObjects Builder, HTML/XHTML compatibility, Java Collection Classes support, updated WebServices, and Oracle 10g support."