Saturday, September 8, 2007

BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Analysts on RIAs, Microsoft Silverlight and Enterprise 2.0 trends

Read a full transcript of the discussion. Listen to the podcast.

The still-maturing technology around Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) and rich media interfaces and video players was jolted last spring when Microsoft's Silverlight offering was unveiled. Already a Linux version is in the offing called Moonlight. The RIA news hit about the same time as the JavaOne and Web 2.0 Expo events were in full swing as well.

We used the timing to bring some IT analysts and experts together for a podcast discussion to examine the role of RIAs and rich media with SOA and the impact on the Enterprise 2.0 space. Join noted IT industry analysts Joe McKendrick, enterprise architect Todd Biske, and independent blogger Barb Darrow for our discussion, hosted and moderated by your's truly.

Here are some excerpts:
We seem to be moving beyond just the notion of an RIA into specific platforms, and/or approaches for doing this. We now have a slate of new products and approaches from Microsoft around the Silverlight brand. We also have news from Adobe about open-sourcing the Flex toolset that helps create content that’s supported on the ubiquitous Flash seamless download client through browsers. And, we've also seen Sun Microsystems pony up with the JavaFX scripting language, also designed for RIAs.

Are RIAs are more than a sideline, and are they becoming a mainstream way of bringing content, data, and applications to users?

It’s a nice step up from the browser interface that we've all been accustomed to for the past decade now and very competitive with the fat-client concept of Microsoft Windows, which is still Microsoft’s bread and butter. To a large degree, they should feel threatened by this.

Two or three years ago, I was invited to a Microsoft technology summit, and they collected about 40 of us in Redmond. It was just a general discussion around some of the things that they were doing, but it was a series of diehard Java advocates, diehard Flash advocates and diehard Linux advocates. It was an interesting exercise just to listen to what they had to say. Microsoft was really trying to hear what would make Microsoft more attractive.

I don’t know whether coming out with a direct competitor to Flash is going to make it any more attractive in the eyes of the Flash developers, but I think certainly playing to their strengths in the existing Microsoft development community, and bringing in some of the best practices of the other development communities, is a smart move on their part. That’s why I think Silverlight will continue to play a role.

We went from green screens all the way to these rich desktop environments. Then, we went back to just the HTML forms, and you knew that pendulum was going to start to shift back towards the center again, that users were going to need higher levels of interaction and capabilities on that Web-based platform. I think this is just indicative of that trend.

In enterprise circles, it’s much more about AJAX than it necessarily is about Flash. Then, you have Silverlight, and now JavaFX Script, which I think are more in the same category as Adobe Flash, than targeting the AJAX world. I've yet to see an enterprise application focused on Flash development. It seems to have much more of a place either in content distribution or the general Internet space. Still, it’s gaining at least mind share, and so we’ll have to see whether this begins to make a push more to the corporate enterprise world.

This whole move to rich clients is interesting. I cover IBM software, and I've got to give them credit. IBM has been talking about this for a while. There’s this kind of contention between new kids coming up, who are used to downloading everything they want and doing mashups -- they grew up this way. And then there's this traditional IT environment that constrains from above what you can do. In that spot, IBM has a little bit of credibility. IBM is trying hard to adopt this mashup/social networking thing going forward, but I'm just wondering. Are they a player here?

IBM does things in a big way, and I've seen them doing a lot of work in this area, in terms of Wikis and blogging. They're even getting involved in the whole second-life scenario. They have a way of moving into these markets in a very big way, and I don’t see them ignoring the whole Web 2.0. Like everyone else, they're piloting things, seeing how it fits in with the enterprise.

IBM probably needs to have some activity in this place soon, because, on one hand, we can look at Microsoft and Google, and they are both application providers outside of the Lotus space. IBM is not an application provider in the same sense. So, some of the things that you see Microsoft doing with Microsoft Live and the Google applications, I wouldn’t expect to see any big push from IBM.

Another thing that struck me at JavaOne this year was the dearth of announcements from other major Java-oriented vendors, and I'm thinking of IBM, BEA, and Oracle. It was really a silence, and what I think has happened is that Sun waited for so long to declare its intention for Java, and then to open-source it under GPL Version 2, that they lost the community. Now, the community is off doing things under Eclipse, Apache, SourceForge, OSSI, or whatever. So, the momentum of the community and the ecology for Java was lost, as Sun basically sat on the fence, trying to figure out how to make more money from Java. I don’t think it’s something they're going to recover from.

This comes back to the whole notion of the client side of this. Will Java, as a development platform, have a role in the development of the client side? It’s well established on the server side, and that’s not going to change any time soon, but what is the future of the client platform, and will it be a case of these RIAs coming down into the enterprise?

Or, will we continue to see a separation of "Here are things down in the content-heavy world of the Internet" and "Here is the corporate world?" Even in the corporate world, either you’re building Microsoft applications, because that’s what’s on everybody’s desktop, or you're building Web-based applications. More and more of the presentation technologies are going towards AJAX, rather than anything you're doing in Java JSP.

Maybe there's a third way on this, and that would be that you go for the minimalist, when you are dealing with data, transactions, and workflow issues, but there is a whole other side of enterprise productivity around collaboration, learning, discovery, and knowledge transfer. These videos and rich media, be it text, audio, or video, whichever you choose, or all three, could be very powerful. We could see instances where we are going to get both. We are going to get a lot of minimalist widgets, but we’ll also get lots of rich, movie-grade video, when it comes to the other side of the equation, which is not dealing with machines and data, but dealing with people.
Read the full transcript for more IT analysis and SOA insights. Listen to the podcast here.

Produced as a courtesy of Interarbor Solutions: analysis, consulting and rich new-media content production.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Nexaweb and Kapow team up to bring Web-based mashups to enterprise desktops

Enterprise 2.0 vendors Nexaweb Technologies and Kapow Technologies have teamed up to smooth the way for bringing internal and external data into enterprise mashups and composite and other rich Internet applications.

By marrying Nexaweb's Web 2.0 Platform with Kapow's Mashup Server, the partnership will extend the reach of enterprises to take any application component with a Web interface and repurpose it into an application involving Web-based content, data, or business logic. This real-time access to wide-ranging data sources -- internal or external -- will give businesses the agility they need to become and remain competitive in an increasingly data-driven environment.

David McFarlane, Nexaweb COO, says the combined technologies will allow companies to peek out from behind the firewall. "External data, such as market quotes, politics, world events, weather, traffic, and third-party analysis and commentary can have significant impact on your business," McFarlane said. "They should be available to your workforce to help them make decisions faster."

Nexaweb's Web 2.0 Platform, a standards-based application development and deployment solution, allows organizations to tap into legacy, SOA (services oriented architecture), and third-party data to deploy Ajax-based business applications over the Web.

The Kapow Mashup Server, a Java-based solution, uses the Web front-end as the interface to integrate Web-based content, data and applications. Kapow uses the ability to access the web interface to create mashups at the user interface level (UI), at the application logic level, and at the data level. The mashup server also includes a highly-scalable, robust enterprise-class deployment framework and a visual design environment.

Tony Baer at Computer Business Review Online sees a wide range of opportunities from the partnership:

"That means that, besides data from database sources, you could now treat wikis, blogs, or other web document-centric content as first class data in for the data driven mashups that are more suited for enterprise use than presentation-oriented mashups that literally placed this style of development on the (Google) map."

Nexaweb and Kapow will be seeking customers for deals involving bundled capabilities, and are offering a discount for companies that sign up in the first few weeks of the offer.

TIBCO revs up enterprise Ajax with General Interface 3.5

TIBCO Software gave a boost to Ajax in the enterprise last week when it released Version 3.5 of its open-source Ajax toolkit, General Interface (GI).

The new version of the award-winning package includes improvements to performance and tooling and offers such other enhancements as an integrated context-sensitive help system -- which TIBCO claims is "nifty" -- and reworked vector drawing APIs. When a developer creates lines, shapes and fills with the API, GI will render them as VML for Internet Explorer and SVG for Firefox.

Performance enhancements include faster data display and rendering times, as well as a boost in speed to make IE6 rendering nearly at parity with more up-to-date browsers.

As far as tooling enhancements, a new benchmarks toolbar gives file size, load time, render time, and HTML size, which allows developers to optimize early in the development process. A drop-in debug build can also alert authors of the need to optimize.

GI was voted Best Ajax Toolkit by Infoworld in 2006. Either the Professional Open Source Edition or the Enterprise Edition can be downloaded from TIBCO.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

MuleSource fires up MuleForge collaboration site; Apache Tuscany team announces 0.99 SCA release

Collaboration is at the heart of open source, and in that spirit, MuleSource, which provides open-source infrastructure and integration software, this week launched MuleForge a Web platform that will allow developers to explore, download, test, and contribute to re-usable mule extensions.

With over 45 projects already on the site, MuleForge is designed as a development base for the Mule community, and offers tips, documentation, and other resources. It also automates building and compiling code, and collecting dependencies, which should save developers large amounts of time.

Among the projects already on the MuleForge site are a plug-in for AS/400 queuing support, a JavaSpaces integration package, and a session initiation protocol (SIP) connector for integrating data and services in VoIP and other telco applications. There is also a connector that allows real-time communications between and internal data sources.

Additional features include:

  • Source code control
  • Continuous builds
  • Issue tracking
  • Documentation wiki
  • Project statistics

MuleForge is also designed to provide community coverage for individual projects and gives access to hundreds of developers to further develop and test code. To sweeten the pot for potential contributors, Mule is offering individuals prestige -- a gift denoting "elite status" -- and the all important cash. Once a quarter, the developer who submits the best project will receive $500 and a spot on the home page.

In other SOA open-source news, the Apache Software Foundation's Tuscany team has announced the 0.99-incubating release of the Java SCA project. SCA is a set of specifications aimed at simplifying SOA application development.

The current release builds on the stability and modularity of the previous releases and includes more complete implementation of SCA specifications, support for distributed SCA domains, SCA policy, OSGi implementations, and pub/sub support. With numerous bug fixes, the 0.99 release is expected to be the last point release before the 1.0 version.

The release and further information can be downloaded from the Apache Tuscany team's Web site.

Friday, August 31, 2007

IBM's Cell processor looks like a candidate to power numerous infrastructure appliances

News that IBM has announced an upgraded version of its blade server based on the Cell processor this week has me wondering about the versatile and powerful "systems on a chip"'s use in appliances, too.

We're heard some hinting and "that's a logical outcome" statements from IBM officials in the past few months, so the pairing of Cell and appliances would not come as a complete surprise. When the details emerge, the price-performance and ease of deployment benefits of these high-powered, multi-core appliances could be very impressive.

When IBM announced plans to buy Telelogic, the deal made sense to me more when the use of a specialized Cell-fired appliances was made part of a possible future portfolio. When we had Jim Ricotta on a recent BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition roundtable podcast, the IBM general manager of appliances indicated more specialized appliance to come from IBM, though he did not finger Cell specifically.

Appliances from IBM should be expected in more componentized infrastructure roles in the coming months, for sure. They make a great deal of sense for data and content optimization and balancing, for SOA-support functions such as ESB, registry/repository, and as discrete services support stacks in a box (a business service appliance).

Those specifying services or functions will not need to consider the underlying platforms or inherent low-level integration issues, just focus on the largely standards-based interoperability characteristics for these functional units. Appliances allow greater exploitation of open source efficiencies by the vendor, with less complexity for the end user, and a better margin for the seller (more than just service and support).

Indeed, we may see some sort of a face-off in terms of total cost and performance between virtualization approaches and appliances approaches. Why not use both? I expect that appliances may very well be filling up larger list of new requirements for enterprise architects over the next two years.

The multi-core attributes of Cell, plus the proprietary 'Synergistic Processing Elements' (SPEs) for the chips provide the means to exploit parallelism and finely tune each box for the specific functionality at hand. The fact that these specialized and closed functional components (hardware, software, integration, optimization) require much less set-up and life-time support, appeals to architects (if not integrators). They may also help on energy use and heat-dispersion issues as well.

The ability to scale by virtue of adding (or subtracting) boxes, plus the ease of swapping and redundancy -- all bode well for more appliances-driven architecture (ADA [... sorry]) for SOA and high-performance yet specialized computing at the best total cost. These attributes will be of interest to hosters, service providers and telecommunications providers.

IBM's Ricotta told our analysts that appliances can cut costs by half, compared to traditional deployment approaches. When you take such economic common sense and toss in the technological secret sauce of optimized and specialized Cell chip-sets ... the balance of Power could well shift toward appliances in the most competitive datacenters.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SaaS now ready to succeed where ASPs failed -- especially for smaller businesses

Listen to the podcast. Read a full transcript.

There is an entire universe of suppliers and vendors that support the delivery of applications as on-demand services. Indeed, the Software as a Service (SaaS) model is attracting more than end users who acquire their IT via user-per-month service subscriptions. Also attracted to the SaaS market are those vendors creating the means to produce and deliver such services well and efficiently.

That's because the timing is now right for small businesses and ISVs to reach each other through SaaS, with the Web as a platform, and with compelling economics. We're also seeing more Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) support vendors focus their sales on SaaS providers and hosts, with the understanding that SOA may well emerge in the SaaS universe first, and then extend to enterprises more generally.

To help understand the SaaS market, what SaaS providers want and what those seeking to support those providers can deliver, I recently spoke with Colleen Smith, managing director of Software as a Service for Progress Software.

The resulting podcast offers some great insights and better appreciation of the swelling ecology of vendors and providers devoted to SaaS delivery.

Here are some excerpts:
Progress Software had started to look at the application service provider (ASP) model back in the early 2000-2001 time frame to figure out whether there was an opportunity for some of the small ISVs who were using the Progress technology to become more of an application service provider. ... I was basically asked to figure out how to build more of a SaaS partner program and look at ways in which we could work with our partners.

[We looked at] the technology enablement and how to build applications to go to market with SaaS. We also added a couple of other things, because we felt that one of the biggest challenges traditional software vendors had was around the business model, the go-to-market strategy, sales enablement, and figuring out ways in which we could actually help them to be more successful in this new business model. We were thinking of it more as a business model and not just as a technology.

Sure, there are the technical components of multi-tenancy, being able to have a Web-based access, and being able to drive policy configuration and personalization. ... On the software side of it, there is much more of a focus on business-process automation, and the people who are building, deploying, and running those applications have a good, solid knowledge of the business itself. The second thing is that the applications are now architected specifically to be able to run for multiple customers, and it’s not a separate implementation for each customer.

The economy of scale is what killed a lot of hosting providers back in the ASP days and ran them out of business. They were just doing an implementation for every customer, as opposed to a single implementation that can now be used by multiple customers -- personalized and managed. The people who use the application run and use it differently, but the implementation is pretty much the same for all customers.

More importantly, we work with a lot with our partners or these ISVs to make sure they realize that this requires different marketing. It requires a different sales and business model, because clearly there are financial implications in terms of cash flows. There are also a lot of things they need to think about in terms of who is the target market.

We've helped them focus on looking at new markets and going down-market. Our partners have always focused very much on the mid-market, but SaaS has enabled them to target some very niche verticals and go down into the "S" of SMB (small and medium business).

I think the timing is right. There are a bunch of reasons why. Number one, the Web is finally viewed as a business platform. Seven or 10 years ago, the Web wasn't viewed as the way in which business applications were going to be run and managed. ... [Before, SMBs] couldn’t afford the dedicated IT staff to manage and maintain the applications. They didn’t necessarily have the infrastructure and the technology to run these business applications. A lot of business applications are much too complex and require too much manpower to manage and maintain the apps.

ISVs [now] realize there’s a whole new market. There’s that long tail, if you will, of the software market that allows them to be able to go after new people. In the past, software just wasn’t accessible to them, and now there’s a whole new market opportunity.

We stress to our ISVs, "You can continue to be in the traditional software business for your core market and the market that you’ve been going after, but there’s a whole new opportunity for you to look at new markets, whether they be the low-end of your current market, adjacent markets, or even new geographic territories."

Throughout South America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific, what we’re finding is tremendous growth opportunity for ISVs to look at these as new markets and to go into those new markets with a new business model. That new business model is SaaS.

On the supply side of how these ISVs can deliver, there’s a new support ecology available to them. They don’t have to create their own data centers themselves. They can find partners. We’ve heard a lot about Amazon, for example, and there are others, of course. These ISVs can focus on what they do well, which is their software, their logic, and then also take advantage of some hosting.

Back in the ASP days, it was all about hosting. I’m not saying that in the SaaS world hosting isn’t important, because it absolutely is. What has changed over the last 7 to 10 years is that now you look at it in terms more of an ecosystem.

You’ve got your infrastructure providers, your application providers, and your hosting and managed-service providers. The biggest change that I have seen now is that each realizes they have a role to play, they have a core expertise, and that through building of this ecosystem and through partnerships you can be much more successful in being able to lower your deployment cost, but still being able to target and go after these new markets.

The SaaS market, in general, is really still in its nascence, and there are a lot of things that have yet to happen. But, the good news is this isn’t just a fad. We see a fundamental change in terms of the business model. ... The only way that the end customer is going to win in this is if we get into a business model where there is that shared risk and shared reward, but the customer pays for only what they need to use.

It's going to come down to pricing models. It still has to come down to some building of ecosystems out there, where everybody knows their role and plays that role, but doesn’t necessarily try to do the other person’s role. There are still a lot of things happening.

I believe it’s going to be vertically focused. I don’t think this is going to be a horizontal play. We’ve seen a lot of success in vertical business expertise. There's going to be content, business applications, data, and services. If all of those can be offered in a single environment through a single service provider, the customer will end up winning.
Listen to the podcast. Read a full transcript. Produced as a courtesy of Interarbor Solutions: analysis, consulting and rich new-media content production.

Ruling expressly denies Express Logic its copyrighted API logic

Express Logic cried foul in June 2006 when Green Hills Software appeared to have a competitor in its embedded microkernel RTOS micro-velOSity product that looked a little too much like what Express Logic had already been delivering to the market (and partnering with Green Hills on).

In seeking a remedy, Express Logic called for an injunction on the market delivery of Green Hills' micro-velOSity (which was denied), and also sought arbitration over its position that Green Hills copied the ThreadX API C source code contained in Express Logic’s tx_api.h header file. Express Logic said that Green Hills had tread on its copyrights when Green Hills created micro-velOSity as an alternative to Express Logic's ThreadX.

Well, now the arbitration panel has sided largely against Express Logic. Green Hills feels vindicated. Express Logic would like to differ, if not in the case's outcome, than in the hardships facing the industry.

“We’re shocked that copying of source code and using it to compete with our copyrighted work was not found to be infringement,” said William E. Lamie, author of ThreadX and president of Express Logic, in a release. “We believe that the basis upon which the arbitrators determined that this copying was not infringing would put all software code at risk of being copied without infringement. After all, what software is not made up of ‘words and short phrases?’ As for the ‘functional requirements for compatibility,’ why should anyone be able to copy source code under the guise of compatibility but not use it for that purpose? This ruling seems illogical to us, and would put all software at risk if this reasoning were to be applied in other cases.”

From Green Hills: "We are vindicated by this judgment,” said Dan O’Dowd, CEO of Green Hills Software, in a release. “Express Logic’s campaign to instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt about micro-velOSity has failed. We regret any inconvenience this litigation has
caused our customers. This final arbitration award ensures that embedded developers can continue to use micro-velOSity with confidence.”

The issues around APIs and compatibility and when source code can and can not be copied are still a fuzz ball. The panel that ruled on this case does not set legal precedent, and a similar lawsuit may be filed (although not in this instance) some day.

Indeed, spats between software companies are nothing new, but the concepts around copyright and code (and even patents!) remain treacherous for many companies. You stay in this business for more than a few months and you'll hear of weird lawsuits and claims around patents, copyrights, and licenses. It's a vipers pit out there, for many.

Unfortunately, that may not change much any time soon. Even largely sensible revisions to the patents process that could clarify the role patents play in software are bogged down in bureaucracy and, yes, Virginia ... politics.

Express Logic may not be able to do more than complain in sales meetings that Green Hills has violated its intellectual property. Express Logic also claimed that Green Hills engages in unfair business practices ... well, that too is now more for the court of public opinion to decide. "Unfair" is a tough term to qualify in the world of software. Has anyone claimed that Silicon Valley or Route 128 are the bastions of the fairness and truth? Not since Rogers Rangers tangled with the Abenakis.

Did Express Logic bend, like a pretzel, the concept of APIs in seeking a legal remedy for its alleged victimization? Perhaps. Are the distinctions in code sharing for compatibility testing and for intellectual property protection murky? Probably. Does Green Hills care about its partners much when its own interests are involved? Probably not.

So there are some lessons in here. APIs are not a good way to assert intellectual property claims. Another is be careful who you partner with when murky software definitions are involved.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lotus Notes 8 brings unified collaboration to mashupable clients

IBM made two announcements Friday that should help smooth the way for bringing unifed Web 2.0-style applications to the Notes/Domino-installed enterprise.

The new Lotus Notes 8 and Lotus Domino 8 releases merge collaboration, communication and productivity features into a single desktop environment, giving users integrated access to such things as RSS feeds and search, along with email, instant messaging, presence, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software.

At the same time, IBM announced Expeditor 6.1.1, an Eclipse-based mashups tool that forms the underpinings of Notes/Domino 8 and thereby allows mashups via managed clients to reach desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

Regular readers of BriefingsDirect know that search is an emerging enterprise strategy of growing importance and that RSS feeds will provide a powerful tool for distributing and managing content and data. Combining them onto a single desktop with other Web 2.0 technologies and productivity applications is certainly a step in the best-of-all-worlds direction.

Incidentally, the means of bringing mashups to the enterprise is evolving along varying lines. IBM likes managed clients, no surprise there. But Serena Software will soon be providing an on-demand platform for mashups that's also intended for enterprise use.

It's no secret that the Lotus Notes UI has been, shall we say ... cumbersome over the years (since Notes 5?). IBM hopes to have cleared that hurdle with a new interface, featuring a sidebar that summarizes all the user's tools in one place, including the RSS feeds.

In fact, it's the new interface that's gotten the most positive feedback from customer tests, according to Ed Brill, Business Unit Executive, Worldwide Lotus Notes/Domino Sales, IBM Software Group (nice title, Ed; go for brevity, I always say). The new release has been in development for more than two years.

The addition of productivity tools, according to Brill, comes from the observation that the principal reason many users in the past have left the Notes application was to use a spreadsheet or word processing (Since, like ... 1989). With the new release, users will be able to do that without leaving Notes.

Imagine, just imagine, if SmartSuite had been natively integrated into Notes in, say, 1994. Things might have panned out a little differently. Oh, well.

One surprising outcome of the customer testing, Brill says, is the level of interest in customers wanting a Notes client for Linux. Nearly 20 percent of downloads during testing have been for Linux. Hint, hint! [How about a full virtualized desktop service based on Linux/Domino with mashups galore! Maybe some appliances along those lines. Works for me.]

Built on Eclipse, Lotus Expeditor 6.1.1, is designed to allow integrated mashups independent of the client technology. Among the key features of Expeditor are:

  • A server-managed composite platform to integrate and aggregate applications and information.
  • Integration with real-time collaboration.
  • Integration with IBM WebSphere Portlet Factory and IBM WebSphere Portal Express.
  • End-to-end government-grade mobile security.
  • The ability to transform Microsoft Visual Basic applications.
There will be those Web 2.0 purists who will smirk at the way IBM is bringing these functions to the market. But consider that enterprises do more integrated collaboration via Notes/Domino than just about any other system. And, importantly, it's a lot easier to bring Web 2.0 functionality into an existing enterprise IT icon, than to bring a Web 2.0 functionality into the enterprise all on its barely surviving greenfield start-up own.