Is Rational Waking Up: Part II

A few months back, we posed the question as to whether IBM Rational is finally waking up after a decade long-slumber. After several years of weak results, Q3 showed some promise. Rivals were now following Rational into a market (Application Lifecycle Management) that it invented. It looked like something was happening here

But since then, Q4 returns showed a drop to old habits. Admittedly, maybe you could attribute that to anticipation of a new direction under new management, followed by a refresh to the team products that are the core of its product line. Software vendors often find their customers holding off purchases when a new version is coming

No matter, we finally heard Rational’s answer this week. And aside from a couple of compelling expansions of its issue and defect tracking system, we were frankly underwhelmed

First the good news. Rational integrated test management into ClearQuest, the issue and defect tracking system. So, when a defect is spotted, it is added as an issue, workflows can be applied, tests automatically generated, and results entered in with a process that is fully closed loop

Another cool feature is the linking of their newly acquired BuildForge tool, which automates the process of software builds (where you assemble all the code that has been changed into a new version, or “build”) with ClearQuest. And in turn, ClearQuest has added a link to Tivoli Provisioning Manager to initiate deployment when software is ready to enter production

The result is that issues, or the workflows associated with solving them, could automatically generate new software build cycles, and have continual tracking from build through test and deployment. That could be very important when it comes to compliance issues and sound IT governance

While build integration here was looser — via APIs rather than deeper metadata integration — this marked a promising start toward assimilating their new acquisition

We would have loved to see more integration further upstream with requirements and version control. Unfortunately, the new refresh didn’t touch assets like Requisite Pro, the requirements tool, which continues to struggle with an underpowered engine that is over a decade old

Rational is not yet fully supporting globally distributed development. The new version tweaks performance on web-based clients of a number of their tools. However, Requisite Pro still cannot support federated development environments where there may be multiple sources or iterations of the truth. And it groans under its reliance on Word, rather than extending support to more stable formats like PDF (admittedly, Rational is not alone there)

Rational (and few others outside of upstart MKS) has not — or may never — get to the point where global, federated repositories finally replace the patchwork of data replications and file transfers linking its tools. But it has yet to take advantage of service- enabling them, which could provide a shorter-term workaround for making the ties that bind a bit more flexible to support the globally distributed development that is becoming the norm today

For all that, we’ll still have to wait.

Hatfields and McCoys: The Sequel

Whether you like it or not, Microsoft Office remains the de facto standard office desktop in the developed world. Meanwhile, Adobe’s PDF format has emerged as de facto standard for print and archival of online documents. Microsoft accomplished it through bundling with the ubiquitous Windows desktop. Adobe did so through by freely publishing the PDF API.

So if you’re a Crystal Reports user, you can readily export the result to Word or PDF. If your company uses SAP, you can store and tag forms in PDF.

And if you use OpenOffice, the open source alternative to Microsoft that’s freely downloadable from, you can perform the entire conversion directly without ever leaving the Microsoft Office document format. That’s because OpenOffice can read and edit Microsoft formats. While OpenOffice occasionally chokes on highly complex files, 80 – 90% of the time, this freebie works just fine.

Given the huge presence of the .doc and PDF formats, wouldn’t it just make sense for Microsoft to finally bite the bullet and put the save-to-PDF feature in Office itself? Evidently, most Microsoft customers thought so, because they asked Microsoft to add PDF conversion to Office 12.

But wait.

Evidently there’s an exception to Adobe’s policy. When Microsoft decided to join the rest of the world, Adobe threatened a lawsuit. While it’s perfectly OK any other software vendor to add PDF support without charge, Adobe insisted Microsoft charge a separate fee.

Instead of viewing this as a potential win-win, Adobe took a more 1990ish view of this being a zero-sum game: Microsoft bundles PDF convert, Adobe loses Acrobat sales. Forget the fact that with PDF conversion already freely available elsewhere, the toothpaste has already spilled out.

Adobe’s position is not only hypocritical, but incredibly shortsighted, because you would think that expanding the accessibility of PDF would in the long run broaden its potential desktop publishing franchise.

Admittedly, Adobe has good reason for playing cautious. If your feature gets bundled with a popular platform, like Office, Windows, or Visual Studio, your company gets great exposure, but Microsoft also gets to learn your product segment. That worked well for Crystal Reports (now part of Business Objects), but not so great for Sybase.

But the Macromedia side of Adobe has plenty of Microsoft experience. Until recently, its Flash player was Internet Explorer’s only plug-in. Thanks to IE’s dominance, Flash became the de facto standard for rich media rendering on the web. And that provided the linchpin for Adobe’s rich web client platform Flex. Minus the bundling, Flash would be about as well known as, say, OpenLazslo (remember them? Of course you don’t, but by the way, they also bundle Flash).

Microsoft has reportedly offered to renew bundling of Flash and its companion Shockwave software with Windows Vista. Maybe they could have gone one better by also offering to bundle the Flex framework alongside Microsoft’s competing Vista-based offering as well.

At this point, Microsoft has dropped plans for what would have been a sensible addition to Office 12. But to our reckoning, we can’t exactly see what Adobe gained from all this. Unless they’re just trying to remind us that PDF is just another proprietary technology.