Monday, March 3, 2008

Microsoft opens Pandora's box on online services, betting convenience is the killer app

Now that Microsoft has shown how online productivity applications and communications/groupware should be properly packaged, we can enter the new era of worker choice.

It's not that different from the choices developers have been making for years: Do you want the convenience of neat packaging (at the cost of flexibility and choice) or do you want to pick ala carte components that may best meet your needs and avoid lock-in?

Microsoft Online Services (MOS) is being launched for the U.S. today by Bill Gates at the annual Microsoft Office SharePoint Conference. The bevy of applications is designed to appeal to many kinds of users, and businesses of most sizes and character. A limited beta has been set up, with general availability during the second half of this year.

Core services will include Web-based e-mail, calendaring, contacts, shared workspaces, and webconferencing and videoconferencing over the Web. Microsoft is characterizing the services as part of its "software plus services" drive, so it's hard to tell how much of the "software" (that stuff installed on the PC or server) you'll need to use MOS.

Microsoft says these services will be "managed through a single Web-based interface," which sounds like a portal you'll need to log in to to add or manage users. "IT professionals can monitor the performance of the services, add and configure users, submit and track support requests, and manage users and licenses," says Microsoft.

As in development, some shops like a nice big package, with per developer seat licenses. Others give their developers more choice on tools, utilities, desktop OS, frameworks. They seem more interested in the work the developers do, than in how they do it.

We could see a similar breakdown among more general computing users, given the MOS versus Google services offerings so far. This is more than a matter of style or taste, one model is born of and imbued with client/server, and the other is of and imbued with the Web. You know which is which.

So, in effect, Microsoft is placing a Web shell on its old model, just like it put a GUI shell on DOS with DOS 5, and another shell on that with Windows 95.

Of course on costs, the beauty and/or devil is in the details. This is a subscription service, designed for businesses. Those businesses will pay on a per-user subscription basis. Those Microsoft shops, existing customers with Software Assurance on their Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CALs) will get a discount.

So there are two big issues here: Total cost, and convenience. And those will break down differently if you're a Microsoft "Assurance"-level user or a non-Microsoft user. We don't know the numbers yet, but it's going to be the real nut in this.

Microsoft will need to skate delicately on thin ice to make the total cost close enough to the way assurance users pay to prevent them from moving too quickly. But, the total cost will need to be low enough so that the Microsoft way to online SaaS will be marginally competitive against Google and other providers of online productivity applications and communications/groupware as services.

And they way this is set up, it's almost as if Microsoft has given up on competing for individuals, students, SOHOs, and perhaps businesses of less than 50 people. It's almost as if they don;t think they can compete with Google there -- at least not for the foreseeable future.

This is, then, about maintaing the base of the small businesses and department-level buyers of Microsoft products. In essence, this is defense. It is designed to make it confusing or economically difficult to calibrate total costs, given the complexity of factoring installations, older apps, licenses, and the entire 20-year-old hairball.

And what Microsoft must do, in addition to making the true cost-benefits analysis murky, is to absolutely win on packaging and convenience. And this is where Google is vulnerable. Google has still to show, aside from costs, how businesses of all sorts can adopt their services and approach in an easy to manage way, that packages things up neatly for the IT folks, and that make a transition from the hairball easy, convenient, and well-understood.

And so Google continues the march into businesses via the organic, user-generated interest and convenience level. Google takes the early lead on the individuals and younger, greenfield companies.

And Microsoft places a bulwark around its empire This could be a long slog.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

OpSource releases OpSource Connect for better integrating SaaS and Web services

OpSource, a software as a service (SaaS) delivery company, is making it easier for SaaS and Web companies to consume and publish multiple Web services with the announcement of OpSource Connect, which will a core component of the OpSource On-Demand Summer 2008 release.

OpSource Connect, which is available immediately, provides a common platform -- the OpSource Service Bus (OSB) -- that will enable integrating SaaS applications in the cloud with legacy enterprise applications behind the firewall, freeing SaaS applications from silos.

OpSource, of Santa Clara, Calif., says that its multi-tenant OSB will change the way companies build and deploy SaaS applications, as well as the way in which those applications interact with and reach new markets. According to OpSource, the OSB provides a "write one, integrate with all" capability for all SaaS applications and Web services.

SaaS is where the growth is expected to be for the foreseeable future. Gartner, for example, sees SaaS growing at a 22.1 percent compound annual rate, which is roughly double the growth of enterprise software as a whole.

Rumor has it that Microsoft isn't waiting around for Gartner to be proven right or wrong and is ramping up its cloud-based applications to mimic its shrink-wrapped offerings.

OpSource Connect APIs provide integration capability for any application. Companies can also use Boomi for OpSource Connect, a visual drag-and-drop application integration environment from Boomi, Inc. This allows integrations with popular non-OSB applications including Salesforce and NetSuite.

Behind the firewall integrations use OpSource Sockets, which provide integration with legacy enterprise applications such as SAP and Intuit QuickBooks. The first OpSource Sockets are based on Boomi Atoms, agents that reside behind the firewall that enable integration without the need for specialized software packages or hardware appliances.

OpSource Connect APIs, Boomi for OpSource Connect and OpSource Sockets are available immediately.

When OpSource On Demand Summer 2008 is released, OpSource Connect will add the ability to use the OSB to not only consume, but publish applications as Web services, allowing each application to become a platform in its own right.

OpSource is also creating a range of services to assist companies in integration and enabling applications. Among these are:

  • Web Services Enablement Program: To assist with enabling applications as Web services.
  • Certified Integrator Program: To provide assistance in integrating applications in the cloud or behind the firewall.
  • Application Directory: To make it easier for companies to find Web services that use the OSB.

Friday, February 29, 2008

In the mind's eye, it's now Marissa versus Monkeyboy

Funny how the mind works. Sometimes it just makes associations whether you want it to or not.

And now that I've read the feature article on Google's Marissa Mayer in San Francisco magazine, the images from that profile are etched into my mind whenever I think of Google, or even go to Google's gaggle of sites, services, and features. There is now continuity between Marissa, Google and me.

These are actually quite pleasant, floating images of a lower Market Street aerie, with purple walls and the home-spun smell of vanilla-laced cupcakes (supported lovingly by pleated paper). There's laughter, intense intelligence, privilege with a purpose, a subdued sensuality, a hammer-hold on the zeitgeist.

Here's a gal with the whole package to capture the hearts and minds of, well ... the world. The cat is out of the bag, she's an It Girl, regardless of her competencies -- and probably despite them. She could even push Steve Jobs off the ohmygawd pedestal. I'm serious.

I don't know if these images are true, but they are hard to resist. You almost want this all to be real, a fantasy that you can believe in. That holds true for Google as a company, as well. You almost want the corporate myth to work out.

It's all generally very positive, easy to sell by not selling it openly. Just like those web services. I probably will want to read more about Marissa. It will be hard not to. And I'll keep experimenting with Google's services right along with the warm, comfy feelings -- from God knows where.

And then there's the mind's eye on Microsoft. Used to be the image of Bill Gates was etched on that, at least for me. Whenever I thought of Microsoft, some how the floating images of Bill sitting in that chartered plane with Warren Buffett, playing cards, beige carpets and couches, stocking feet, off to cure the world of major diseases and ignorance. I wanted to be there too. If I only had $20 billion to kick in, I'd do it. I'd learn to play bridge. Steaks and cherry coke.

And the image of Bill was good for Microsoft -- and it was the public Bill, the philanthropist, The Road Ahead Bill -- not the monopolist and software mogul. And I have even dreamed of Bill Gates. Totally involuntary, I assure you. But that's how powerful these media-fueled images are.

I've even met the guy a few times, and those images do not stick as much as these Jungian archetypes of the total top dog. We must be hard-wired to seek out someone or something to fill this need to define the very top slot, to latch onto something and endow it with such power. Perhaps it's so we know what to aspire to -- both individually and as a culture. These images may be entirely devoid of reality -- yet remain nearly tangible and extremely powerful.

And so as Bill Gates separates in this regard from the Microsoft mental imagery, the dissonance between the archetype and software company will fade too. Can't have it both ways. The Gates mystique will segue to the foundation, to the cures, to the endowment. He shall rise above the corporation, the brand.

What or who will fill the void? Ray Ozzie seems a tad celebrity-shy. I just can't see Ray on Oprah (Marissa would work, though!). Ray's a geek's geek, not an archetype, nosiree. Mundie? Insufficient profile. All these white guys blend together, nothing sticks out.

But wait, look inside yourself. Conjure up Microsoft and what do you now see? Increasingly, especially in light of the Yahoo! takeover bid, a new image is burnishing my thoughts of Microsoft. It's that darned Monkeyboy video clip of Steve Ballmer. I don't want to see it, and yet I do. Can't stop myself.

Ballmer is the only poster child Microsoft has left. He does not blend in, he sticks out. It's a powerful image, but is it the one that Microsoft really wants nowadays? I hate to think that marketing and global persona images count for as much as software proficiency, but I know it does. Why, oh why, does life have to be like some kind of damned popularity contest?

I have not yet dreamed of Steve Ballmer. I have not yet dreamed of Marissa Mayer. But my mind's eye is doing it's thing, and I am but a passenger. It's now the Google-Marissa mental mashup versus the Microsoft-Monkeyboy machination. Google could have an awesome weapon on its hands here.

Funny how the mind works.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RIA wars heat up with arrival of Adobe's AIR and Flex

In the world of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), the battle for hearts and minds -- not to mention eyeballs and desktops -- heated up this week when Adobe Systems took the wraps off its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR).

Adobe AIR, according to the buzz on the street, "blurs" the lines between the PC and the Web by allowing users to download Web applications to the desktop and letting them access those applications wherever the user may be. For example, eBay has developed an AIR application, so that bidders not longer have to monitor the eBay Web site or constantly watch their email. Instead, changes in an item they are interested in can be instantly displayed on their desktop.

Adobe announced the beta last fall in lieu of a promised alpha release, and, at the time, I said I hoped the company would move more quickly on completing their work on it, as the RIA market seemed to be catching on quickly. There's talk of a Linux version.

Everyone from the New York Times to niche bloggers are buzzing with trying to handicap the horse race that's now developing among the top contenders, including Adobe's latest entry, and offerings from such other RIA powerhouses as Microsoft's Silverlight and Mozilla's Prism.

Adobe is already planning to make its own applications available in an AIR version, and its Web site lists some major online organizations that have already developed AIR applications. In addition to eBay, these include such household names as The New York Times, AOL, NASDAQ, The American Cancer Society, Nickelodeon, Yahoo!, and

Those interested in a more grassroots approach can find over 120 AIR applications at the Airapps wiki.

While the spotlight seems to be on AIR, it's hard to ignore Adobe's other announcement, which is the availability of Flex 3.0, their open-source framework for building highly interactive Web applications, which has also been languishing in beta since last fall.

I recently saw a demo of Workday's human resource management applications build using Adobe Flex, and the ability for users to navigate and customize their work on the fly was very impressive. Workday has artfully crafted on-demand business applications that rival any client-server applications. I expect this to become the standard for online productivity applications, and for AIR to grease the skids for wider adoption of these compelling UIs. [Disclosure: Workday is the new parent of Cape Clear Software, a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Flex 3.0 has added a slew of new functionality to the 2.0 version, as well as enhancing some of the earlier capabilities. Among the new functions:

  • Drag and Drop support
  • Local File system access
  • Local SQLite database storage
  • AIR debugging and profiling
  • AIR application packaging and signing

There are more at the Flex Web site.

While Flex may tickle the fancy of developers, it's AIR that's caught the attention of the so-called mainstream media, with even the BBC weighing in on the matter. One major issue has already reared its ugly head -- security, with some commentators expressing the fear that users could unwittingly download malicious programs.

The developer will sign AIR applications, and it will be up to the user to decide whether to trust the certificate or not. While it's easy to say that end users should be prudent in their choices, experience has taught us that people often blow right by warning screens and download things they shouldn't. Time will tell how much of a problem this is.

Adobe AIR can be downloaded now. Flex is available for purchase.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Microsoft on open APIs: New tune or blowing more smoke?

It's a radical departure, this news from Microsoft that openness between its products and the rest of the universe is more than a hollow platitude. To take Microsoft at its Word, given this release, is to open an era of an entirely new Microsoft. But is it?

For Microsoft's admitting today that it needs to be more open, should meaningfully support standards, should allow developers access to APIs, should make its documents easy to share, should build new interoperability-friendly APIs for its major products -- this is also admitting that it has tried to thwart or undo these very avenues to progress in the past.

This has to be more then trying to appease the European regulators.

So Microsoft's declaration to embrace openness is at the same time a mea culpa, that it has been employing dirty tricks to seal its products off, and has tried to punish those that would seek to make productivity from the interchange between Microsoft's products and the rest of the universe. And it has been doing it all as a convicted monopolist.

And so we are now supposed to move on. Please see this as a new era of openness, we were wrong (while the price was right), and now we're going to play nice. We love open source, and standards, and API access, and third-party developers. Sorry, so sorry, let's move forward.

So they say.

And to pair this new air of openness with the acid hostile takeover bid for Yahoo offers a few potential insights, if not underscores deep internal conflicts in Redmond.

It is odd that the road to openness demands the takeover of a foe, nee friend. One week we need to outbid the world to grab a company distinctly different from our own (for the engineers), and the next week we need to better love the sharing between people and technology (for the engineers).

What? These market movers strike me as at crosscurrents, at best, or more likely some kind of bi-polar method to software development and deployment amid an advertising-crazed upset of the monopoly apple cart.

And yet, too, the odd pairing makes sense, if you're a cynic.

Because by seeking to buy Yahoo, Microsoft is also making some major mea culpas. By trying to buy Yahoo, Microsoft is in effect agreeing that open source is essential to any competitive, world-class datacenter or cloud fabric of the future. And so then Microsoft needs to change its tune about open source. Sorry, we goofed. Now we'll just buy an open source cloud infrastructure.

If by seeking to buy Yahoo, Microsoft aims to broaden its reach as a purveyor of IT functions as services (beyond the Live stuff to date), then openness and interoperability between its products and Yahoo's services is a must. And again, Microsoft needs to change its tune about openness and interoperability. Sorry, we were wrong about the Web. It's not going away. Our interfaces won't necessarily be the gateway to the Internet assets you need and seek.

If by seeking to buy Yahoo, Microsoft aims to use industry standards to integrate its Windows Everywhere arsenal with the rest of Yahoo -- and most enterprises or portals, for that matter -- then Microsoft needs to change its tune about is depth of use and commitment to open industry standards. Sorry, we should have played nice all along. Who wants proprietary formats, anyway?

For Microsoft to make the Yahoo merger work, the announcements today have to work too. By buying and integrating Yahoo into Microsoft, in essence, forces Microsoft to be integrated with a much larger slice of the real world. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

But what happens after the Yahoo merger, assuming they integrate it all (or at least make it interoperable, presumably leveraging the very standards they so long disdained)? What's to say that everything that Microsoft is pledging to do today, they decide not to do in two years?

Is there no going back? Or is this the means to the ever-larger platform play that Microsoft could not attain -- of extending one monopoly to another? Is this the Web-as-platform acquisition that leads only to increased advertising revenues at the cost of the demise of the original monopoly and those juicy license fees?

I do like what I'm hearing, I just wish it was easier to believe that Microsoft by its very nature has changed along with the need for it to change.

It seems easy for Redmond to cop these mea culpas. It's not as easy for me to forget what made them necessary.

Informatica offers Data Migration Suite; Wipro to leverage its power

Informatica Corp. is addressing the crucial issue of data access by packaging its data integration software as Informatica Data Migration Suite, with an eye toward providing a solution for companies involved in mergers and acquisitions, consolidation, and outsourcing.

With the shifting landscape of business today, as well as such innovations as service-oriented architecture (SOA), reliable data access is more important than ever to provide the organizational flexibility necessary to respond to internal demands and external pressures.

Despite this, most Global 2000 companies report that their data migration has come in late or over budget. According to a study by Bloor Research, commissioned by Informatica, some 84 percent of projects fell short of expectation and resulted in cost overruns averaging 30 percent. This can have a serious impact on an area expected to see budgets exceeding $8 billion in the next few years.

Informatica, Redwood City, Calif., says its new suite, which provides an independent software platform designed for data migration, will include the company's PowerExhange, PowerCenter, Data Explorer, and Data Quality. The company says the new offerings is designed to ensure the success of data migration projects.

One company has already jumped on the new platform, with the announcement that Wipro Technologies in Mountain View, Calif., will use it to provide data migration to its customers worldwide. The Informatica offering will underpin Wipro's Data Migration Shared Services.

Wipro, which provides integrated business, technology, and process solutions on a global basis, will use the Data Migration Suite to automate and streamline the process. This includes creating all data mappings required to migrate data from and to any system, discovering data quality issues at their source, and cleansing and converting the data as part of the overall migration.

The primary targets for the offering will be data migrations in support of new applications including ERP /CRM implementations and upgrades, legacy system modernization, application instance consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, and outsourcing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bungee Connect beta goes public, adds oomph to development and deployment as a service

Bungee Labs, Orem, Utah, continues its march toward "platform as a service" (PaaS) with today's announcement that it has opened Bungee Connect as a public beta, inviting all developers to, in Bungee's words, "get inspired, get started, and get involved."

Bungee Connect is an end-to-end environment that allows developers to build desktop-like applications from multiple Web services and databases and then instantly deploy them on Bungee's multi-tenant grid infrastructure.

Fellow ZDNet blogger Ryan Stewart has a god piece on Bungee's coming out. As does Dan Farber.

Bungee is dangling the carrot of a reduced time to market -- as much as 80 percent -- from testing, deploying, and hosting in a single, on-demand platform. With utility-like pricing, Bungee is also offering reduced cost. The company claims that businesses can expect to pay $2-5 per user per month for a heavily used business productivity application. However, all applications will be hosted for free during the public beta.

To provide a reference application, Bungee is also releasing WideLens, a calendar application that solves integration problems between Microsoft Exchange,, Google Calendar, Facebook, MySQL, and iCalendar.

WideLens is intended to provide examples of integrating multiple databases and Web services, end-user authentication, and dynamic user interface presentation patterns. The integration accommodates a variety of protocols -- WebDav, gData, SOAP , REST, and the MySQL client libraries.

A demonstration video is available from the Bungee Web site.

One major feature of Bungee Connect is that developers can access all applications through one of the major Web browsers -- Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari -- with no software downloads, installs, or plug-ins.

I've been following the exploits of Bungee since it first unveiled Bungee Connect last April at the Web 2.0 Expo. Back then, I saw it's potential to expand the universe of Web services for developers:

" . . . the real innovation is how the Bungee Connect model provides an incubator, and — in essence — a business development partner to the developer so that they do not just create an application — they can create a business. That's because the cost for the use of the tools, testing, and then hosting is free, and the subscription cost for the at-scale hosting only kicks in based on the use of the application by end users. Low use means low costs, and high use means a predictable measure of the proceeds goes to the development and hosting service."

One thing we can take away from this announcement is that PaaS is now more than just pie-in-the-sky concept or a one-off product. It's gaining traction, and is offering companies a low-cost -- or scalable cost -- route to business development.

David Mitchell, Bungee founder and CEO, sees PaaS as the wave of the future. He said in a blog post on the Bungee site:

"In our view a platform includes all the systems and environments comprising the end-to-end life cycle of developing, testing, deploying, and hosting Web applications. Naturally, this platform must also be cloud based, a platform as a service,

At Bungee Labs, we believe a transformation larger than SaaS is emerging, where end-to-end development, deployment and hosting platforms as provisioned as services over Web."

Mitchell's blog post echoes what I said in an update last July:

The net effect of these trends and examples is that the time, cost and risk of going from design to full production are deeply compressed. We are entering a period on unmatched applications, services, and media creativity.

I expect we'll be seeing more application lifecycle as a service approaches -- ones that bring enterprise-calibre development, test, deployment, and hosting together. Amazon is moving in this direction. We should also expect the same from Google and Microsoft.

Indeed any cloud computing environ that wishes to support a vibrant community ought to offer what Bungee Labs is providing now. And do hope that standards rule the day so that mashups remain straightforward.

The issue of code portability also needs to be addressed. I probably won;t make sense for these hosts to make leaving easy, but it should nonetheless be quite possible and well understood.

Friday, February 15, 2008

TIBCO beefs up ActiveMatrix with 2.0 release, moves to 'Total Architecture' value

Promising hefty productivity increases and a lower TCO , TIBCO Software this week announced its beefed-up ActiveMatrix 2.0, which aims to simplify bilding and managing service-oriented architectures (SOAs).

This latest release adds BusinessWorks, which is available either in standalone mode or as a container hosted in the ActiveMatrix infrastructure, and Service Bus, a new lightweight enterprise service bus (ESB), that helps integrate services while using content or context-based routing.

It was just a year ago that I had a BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition podcast devoted largely to TIBCO and ActiveMatrix. At that time, the panel of analysts saw newly announced ActiveMatrix as a definite shift in the trajectory that TIBCO had been on. You can listen to the podcast here.

I also conducted a sponsored book review podcast last year with TIBCO architect Paul Brown on the concept of Total Architecture, which ActiveMatrix 2.0 undergirds, for sure. Disclosure: TIBCO has been a sponsor of my BriefingsDirect podcasts. Read a full transcript of the discussion.

ActiveMatrix 2.0 includes expanded and deep support for service component architecture (SCA) to automate and unify the assembly, deployment, hosting, and managing of SOA projects and services.

With ActiveMatrix 2.0, TIBCO says users can manage SOAs with combinations of Java, .NET, and broad service mediation and orchestration of both existing custom and packaged applications.

TIBCO has great hopes for the new release. According to Matt Quinn, vice president of product strategy:

“As organizations embark upon broader SOA initiatives, business and IT users need tools that can help them harness services across multi-vendor platforms and scale to meet the most demanding enterprise environments. The TIBCO ActiveMatrix product family continues to evolve to help all types of businesses at any phase in the SOA life-cycle to reduce the complexity with developing, deploying and managing service-oriented applications.”

All ActiveMatrix 2.0 products can be purchased separately or as part of three packages – the TIBCO SOA Starter Bundle, the TIBCO Integration Bundle, or the TIBCO Composite Application Bundle.

On the vendor sports angle, TIBCO remains one of the few remaining standalone commercial middleware/SOA infrastructure vendors. With BEA now under the auspices of Oracle, Cape Clear under Workday, IONA Technologies also remains independent (but appears to be in play, with Software AG rumored to be in pursuit).

The field of vendors not gobbled up by larger inclusive providers include focused and component-based providers such as SOA Software, and a slew of open source and commercial open source providers -- from MuleSource to WSO2 to Red Hat. Disclosure: WSO2 has been a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts. Disclosure: IONA Technologies has been a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.

And many of the open source providers are rapidly expanding their SOA infrastructure perview, not the least of which is this week's Red Hat announcements about their SOA stack, built significantly from the JBoss community.

I remain bullish on open source SOA, and we may soon see the real cost-benefits competition occur not between the large, comprehensive suppliers like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft -- but more generally between open source SOA providers and commercial ones. As with IONA and Mule, we also see that combinations of open source development and commercial distribution and support can be a powerful and productive tag-team.

SOA infrastructure lends itself well to community development and advancement. I expect to see more SOA action, too, at the upcoming EclipeCon event in March.