Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts have kept us from attending Leo Apotheker’s keynote today before the HP Analyst Summit in San Francisco. But yesterday, he tipped his cards for his new software vision for HP before a group of investment analysts. HP’s software focus is not to reinvent the wheel – at least where it comes to enterprise apps. Apotheker has to put to rest that he’s not about to do a grudge match and buy the company that dismissed him. There is already plenty of coverage here, interesting comment from Tom Foremski (we agree with him about SAP being a non-starter), and the Software Advice guys who are conducting a poll.
To some extent this has been little surprise with HP’s already stated plans for WebOS and its recently announced acquisition of Vertica. We do have one question though: what happened to Converged Infrastructure?
For now, we’re not revisiting the acquisitions stakes, although if you follow #HPSummit twitter tags today, you’ll probably see lots of ideas floating around today after 9am Pacific time. We’ll instead focus on the kind of company HP wants to be, based on its stated objectives.
1. Develop a portfolio of cloud services from infrastructure to platform services and run the industry’s first open cloud marketplace that will combine a secure, scalable and trusted consumer app store and an enterprise application and services catalog.
This hits two points on the checklist: provide a natural market for all those PCs that HP sells. The next part is stating that HP wants to venture higher up the food chain than just sell lots of iron. That certainly makes sense. The next part is where we have a question: offering cloud services to consumers, the enterprise, and developers sounds at first blush that HP wants its cloud to be all things to all people.
The good news is that HP has a start on the developer side where it has been offering performance testing services for years – but is now catching up to providers like CollabNet (with which it is aligned and would make a logical acquisition candidate) and Rally in offering higher value planning services for the app lifecycle.
In the other areas – consumer apps and enterprise apps – HP is starting from square one. It obviously must separate the two, as cloud is just about the only thing that the two have in common.
For the consumer side, HP (like Google Android and everyone else) is playing catchup to Apple. It is not simply a matter of building it and expecting they will come. Apple has built an entire ecosystem around its iOS platform that has penetrated content and retail – challenging Amazon, not just Salesforce or a would-be HP, using its user experience as the basis for building a market for an audience that is dying to be captive. For its part, HP hopes to build WebOS to have the same “Wow!” factor as the iPhone/iPad experience. It’s got a huge uphill battle on its hands.
For the enterprise, it’s a more wide open space where only Salesforce’s AppExchange has made any meaningful mark. Again, the key is a unifying ecosystem, with the most likely outlet being enterprise outsourcing customers for HP’s Enterprise Services (the former EDS operation). The key principle is that when you build a market place, you have to identity who your customers are and give them a reason to visit. A key challenge, as we’ve stated in our day job, is that enterprise customers are not the enterprise equivalent of those $2.99 apps that you’ll see in the AppStore. The experience at Salesforce – the classic inversion of the long tail – is that the market is primarily for add-ons to the Salesforce.com CRM application or use of the Force.com development platform, but that most entries simply get buried deep down the list.
Enterprise apps marketplaces are not simply going to provide a cheaper channel for solutions that still require consultative sells. We’ve suggested that they adhere more to the user group model, which also includes forums, chats, exchanges of ideas, and by the way, places to get utilities that can make enterprise software programs more useful. Enterprise app stores are not an end in themselves, but a means for reinforcing a community — whether it be for a core enterprise app – or for HP, more likely, for the community of outsourcing customers that it already has.
2. Build webOS into a leading connectivity platform.
HP clearly hopes to replicate Apple’s success with iOS here – the key being that it wants to extend the next-generation Palm platform to its base of PCs and other devices. This one’s truly a Hail Mary pass designed to rescue the Palm platform from irrelevance in a market where iOS, Android, Adobe Flash, Blackberry, and Microsoft Windows 7/Silverlight are battling it out. Admittedly, mobile developers have always tolerated fragmentation as a fact of life in this space – but of course that was when the stakes (with feature phones) were rather modest. With smart device – in all its varied form factors from phone to tablet – becoming the next major consumer (and to some extent, enterprise) frontier, there’s a new battle afresh for mindshare. That mindshare will be built on the size of the third party app ecosystem that these platforms attract.
As Palm was always more an enterprise rather consumer platform – before the Blackberry eclipsed it – HP’s likely WebOS venue will be the enterprise space. Another uphill battle with Microsoft (that has the office apps), Blackberry (with its substantial corporate email base), and yes, Apple, where enterprise users are increasingly sneaking iPhones in the back door, just like they did with PCs 25 years ago,
3. Build presence with Big Data
Like (1), this also hits a key checkbox for where to sell all those HP PCs. HP has had a half-hearted presence with the discontinued Neoview business. The Vertica acquisition was clearly the first one that had Apotheker’s stamp on it. Of HP’s announced strategies, this is the one that aligns closest with the enterprise software strategy that we’ve all expected Apotheker to champion. Obviously Vertica is the first step here – and there are many logical acquisitions that could fill this out, as we’ve noted previously, regarding Tibco, Informatica, and Teradata. The importance is that classic business intelligence never really suffered through the recession, and arguably, big data is becoming the next frontier for BI that is becoming, not just a nice to have, but increasingly an expected cost of competition.
What’s interesting so far is that in all the talk about big Data, there’s been relatively scant attention paid to utilizing the cloud to provide the scaling to conduct such analytics. We foresee a market where organizations that don’t necessarily want to buy all that and that use large advanced analytics on an event-driven basis, to consume the cloud for their Hadoop – or Vertica – runs. Big Data analytics in the cloud could be HP’s enterprise trump card.
In spite of a belated challenge from Microsoft, Adobe’s Flash framework has arguably remained the de facto standard for formal Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). But that existence has been called into question with its latest cold war with Apple.
Steve Jobs has slammed Adobe for being lazy; his motives of course are debatable, as we’ll get into below. Yes, Flash is buggy and there are lots of security holes. That’s because as a full RIA client framework,, the technology is being called upon to exert a much wider role from which it was originally designed; to bring multimedia to static web pages.
We were reminded of this while being contacted by an Asian reporter who was asking about whether Flash’s very market survival was now in question. But let’s get real; the only reason we’re having this discussion is Apple’s rejection of Flash for the new and overly hyped iPad.
The conflict between Apple and Adobe is nothing new, and in a way is rather ironic. Adobe Postscript was the technology that helped make the Mac what it is for creative professionals, as Postscript technology made the Mac the de facto standard for desktop publishing. Fast forward to the present, and Apple views Adobe technology as a threat to its revenue stream.
Apple has honed to a very clever business model for its mobile products that is actually a throwback to the golden days of turnkey systems, circa 1979. This model, where the hardware supplier controls what software goes on the machine and gives the client a box with functionality that is ready to go gives the hardware provider control over the revenue stream. The only difference between 1979 and now is that, while the hardware provider used to supply the software, today that comes through third parties who pay for the privilege of selling content to the iPod audience, and a mix of content or software to the iPhone, and now the iPad market.
The problem for Apple however is that the Flash framework could provide third-party software and content providers a bypass around Apple’s Berlin Wall and fees. Adobe is therefore an existential threat to Apple’s annuity stream.
Consequently, while Steve Jobs isn’t off base in criticizing Flash’s technical vulnerabilities, the real driver is cold hard cash.
The argument over whether denial of access to he iPad is a threat to Adobe is because there are questions as to whether the iPad will have the same transformational impact on the mobile Internet space that the iPod and iPhone have had over music and cell phone. Based on what’s out now, we think that the iPad is more hype and actually represents a step back for Internet users to the Web 0.9 experience as the iPad lacks multi-tasking, not to mention the Flash content that is ubiquitous across the web. Others are obviously rushing to come out with their iPad wannabees, most of them likely with Flash support. A new tablet market category will emerge and steal thunder from the netbook.
Admittedly, multi-tasking could be fixed in forthcoming rev, but we think that Apple has made a line in the sand regarding Flash. Maybe Apple has something up its sleeve, like its own answer to Flash, Silverlight, or JavaFX. Or maybe Apple eventually promotes HTML 5 as its RIA strategy. That’s the draft W3C standard that would bring RIA support right back into the mother ship, eliminating the need for those pesky add-ons or reliance on loosey-goosey Ajax. But HTML 5 is way off in the future. Currently in working draft and deficient in areas such as security and codec support, the W3C won’t likely approve it until 2011 at the earliest, an dafter that, it will be years before it reaches critical mass adoption if ever.
But let’s just pretend that maybe the iPad has the same transformative impact on the market as the iPod or iPhone. By 2011, there’s a definite trend away from netbooks to tablets, Apple’s rivals roll out their wannabees, but web developers find that much of their audience is drifting off Flash. (Fat chance.) That’s where things could get really weird. Microsoft, which has been watching from the sidelines, wants a game changer. It must decide which is its worst enemy: Apple or Adobe. If the former, it scraps Silverlight for Flash, because what use is there in being #3? If the latter, it embraces HTML 5 under the guise of industry standards support. Sound unlikely? Actually there’s a precedent. Years ago, Bill Gates promoted Dynamic HTML as Microsoft’s industry-standard alternative to Java clients (we saw him at a Gartner event back in 1999 making the pitch). Who’da thunk that DHTML would eventually becoming one of the pillars that made Ajax possible?
Back to our original point: the iPad is overhyped, it will gain some market share, but it won’t kill off Flash.
In an otherwise pretty packed news day, we’d like to echo @mdl4’s sentiments about the respective importance of Apple’s and Oracle’s announcements: “Oracle finalized its purchase of Sun. Best thing to happen to Sun since Java. Also: I don’t give a sh#t about the iPad. I said it.”
There’s little new in observing that on the platform side, that Oracle’s acquisition of Sun is a means for turning the clock back to the days of turnkey systems in a post-appliance era. History truly has come full circle as Oracle in its original database incarnation was one of the prime forces that helped decouple software from hardware. Fast forward to the present, and customers are tired of complexity and just want things that work. Actually, that idea was responsible for the emergence of specialized appliances over the past decade for performing tasks ranging from SSL encryption/decryption to XML processing, firewalls, email, or specialized web databases.
The implication here is that the concept is elevated to enterprise level; instead of a specialized appliance, it’s your core instance of Oracle databases, middleware, or applications. And even there, it’s but a logical step forward from Oracle’s past practice of certifying specific configurations of its database on Sun (Sun was, and now has become again, Oracle’s reference development platform). That’s in essence the argument for Oracle to latch onto a processor architecture that is overmatched in investment by Intel for the x86 line. The argument could be raised than in an era of growing interest in cloud, as to whether Oracle is fighting the last war. That would be the case – except for the certainty that your data center has just as much chance of dying as your mainframe.
At the end of the day, it’s inevitably a question of second source. Dana Gardner opines that Oracle will replace Microsoft as the hedge to IBM. Gordon Haff contends that alternate platform sources are balkanizing as Cisco/EMC/VMware butts their virtualized x86 head into the picture and customers look to private clouds the way they once idealized grids.
The highlight for us was what happens to Sun’s Java portfolio, and as it turns out, the results are not far from what we anticipated last spring: Oracle’s products remain the flagship offerings. From looking at respective market shares, it would be pretty crazy for Oracle to have done otherwise
The general theme was that – yes – Sun’s portfolio will remain the “reference” technologies for the JCP standards, but that these are really only toys that developers should play with. When they get serious, they’re going to keep using WebLogic, not Glassfish. Ditto for:
• Java software development. You can play around with NetBeans, which Oracle’s middleware chief Thomas Kurian characterized as a “lightweight development environment,” but again, if you really want to develop enterprise-ready apps for the Oracle platform, you will still use JDeveloper, which of course is written for Oracle’s umbrella ADF framework that underlies its database, middleware, and applications offerings. That’s identical to Oracle’s existing posture with the old (mostly) BEA portfolio of Eclipse developer tools. Actually, the only thing that surprised us was that Oracle didn’t simply take NetBeans and set it free – as in donating it to Apache or some more obscure open source body.
• SOA, where Oracle’s SOA Suite remains front and center while Sun’s offerings go on maintenance.
We’re also not surprised as to the prominent role of JavaFX in Oracle’s RIA plans; it fills a vacuum created when Oracle terminated BEA’s former arrangement to bundle Adobe Flash/Flex development tooling. In actuality, Oracle has become RIA agnostic, as ADF could support any of the frameworks for client display, but JavaFX provides a technology that Oracle can call its own.
There were some interesting distinctions with identity management and access, where Sun inherited some formidable technologies that, believe it or not, originated with Netscape. Oracle Identity management will grab some provisioning technology from the Sun stack, but otherwise Oracle’s suite will remain the core attraction. But Sun’s identity and access management won’t be put out to pasture, as it will be promoted for midsized web installations.
There are much bigger pieces to Oracle’s announcements, but we’ll finish with what becomes of MySQL. In short there’s nothing surprising to the announcement that MySQL will be maintained in a separate open source business unit – the EU would not have allowed otherwise. But we’ve never bought into the story that Oracle would kill MySQL. Both databases aim at different markets. Just about the only difference that Oracle’s ownership of MySQL makes – besides reuniting it under the same corporate umbrella as the InnoDB data store – is that, well, like yeah, MySQL won’t morph into an enterprise database. Then again, even if MySQL had remained independent, that arguably it was never going to evolve to the same class of Oracle as the product would lose its beloved simplicity.
The more relevant question for MySQL is whether Oracle will fork development to favor Solaris on SPARC. This being open source, there would be nothing stopping the community from taking the law into its own hands.
Sorry for the pathetic rhyme, but we waited bloody long enough for the privilege of writing it. Like almost every attendee at just-concluded Oracle OpenWorld, the suspense on when Oracle would finally lift the wraps on Fusion Apps was palpable. Staying cool with minimizing our carbon footprint, we weren’t physically at Moscone, but instead watching the webcasts and monitoring the Twitter stream from our home office.
The level of anticipation over Fusion apps was palpable. But it was hardly suspense as it seemed that a good cross-section of Twitterati were either analysts, reference customers, consultants or other business partners who have had their NDA sneak peaks (we had ours back in June), but had to keep our lips sealed until last night.
There was also plenty of impatience for Oracle to finally get on with a message that was being drowned out by its sudden obsession with hardware. Ellison spent most of his keynote time pumping up its Exadata cache memory database storage appliance and issuing a $10 million challenge to IBM that it can’t match Oracle’s database benchmarks on Sun. Yup, if the Sun acquisition goes trough, Oracle’s no longer strictly a software company, and although the Twiterati counted its share of big iron groupies, the predominant mood was that hardware was a distraction. “This conference has been hardware heavy from the start. Odd for a software conference,” tweeted Forrester analyst Paul Hamerman. “90 minutes into the keynote, nothing yet on Fusion apps,” “Larry clearly stalling with all this compression mumbo jumbo,” “Larry please hurry up and tell the world about Fusion Apps, fed up of saying YES it does exist to your skeptics,” and so on read the Twitter stream. There was fear that Oracle would simply tease us in a manner akin to Jon Stewart’s we’ll have to leave it there dig at CNN: “I am afraid that Larry soon will tell that as time has run out he will tell about Fusion applications in next OOW.” A 20-minute rousing speech from governor Arnold Schwarzenegger served as a welcome relief from Ellison’s newly found affection for big iron toys.
Ellison came back after the guvernator pleaded with the audience to stick around awhile and drop some change around California as the state is broke. The break gave him the chance to drift over to Oracle Enterprise Manager, which at least got the conversation off hardware. Ellison described some evolutionary enhancements where Oracle can track your configurations trough Enterprise Manager and automatically manage patching. As we’ve noted previously, Oracle has compelling solutions for all-Oracle environments, among them being a declarative framework for developing apps and specifying what to monitor and auto-patch.
But the spiel on Enterprise Manager provided a useful back door to the main topic, as Ellison showed how it could automate management of the next generation of Oracle apps. Ellison got the audience’s attention with the words, “We are code complete for all of this.”
Well almost everything. Oracle has completed work on all modules except manufacturing.
Ellison then gave a demo that was quite similar to one that we saw under NDA back in the summer. While ERP emerged with and was designed for client/server architectures, Fusion has emerged with a full Java EE and SOA architecture; it is built around Oracle Fusion middleware 11g and uses Oracle BPEL Process Manager to run processes as orchestrations of processes exposed from the Fusion apps or other legacy applications. That makes the architecture of Fusion Apps clean and flexible.
It uses SOA to loosely couple, rather than tightly integrate with other Fusion processes or processes exposed by existing back end applications, which should make Fusion apps more pliant and less prone to outage. That allows workflows in Fusion to be dynamic and flexible. If an order in the supply chain is held up, the process can be dynamically changed without bringing down order fulfillment processes for orders that are working correctly. It also allows Oracle to embed business intelligence throughout the suite, so that you don’t have to leave the application to perform analytics. For instance, in an HR process used for locating the right person for a job, you can dig up an employee’s salary history, and instead switching to a separate dashboard, you can instead retrieve and display relevant pieces of information necessary to see comparisons and make a decision.
Fusion’s SOA architecture also allows Oracle to abstract security and access control by relying on its separate, Fusion middleware-based Identity Manager product. The same goes with communications, where instant messaging systems can be pulled in (we didn’t see any integration with Wikis or other Web 2.0 social computing mechanisms, but we assume that they can be integrated as services.). It also applies to user interfaces, where you can use different rich internet clients by taking advantage of Oracle’s ADF framework in JDeveloper.
Oracle concedes the obvious: outside of the midmarket, there is no Greenfield market for ERP, and therefore, Fusion Apps are intended to supplement what you already have, not necessarily replace it. That includes Oracle’s existing applications, for which it currently promises at least a decade of more support. But at this point, Oracle is not being any more specific about rollout other than to say it would happen sometime next year.
Tibco has always been about data and more recently processes in motion. Its heritage is as a company that connects data and applications, providing the mediation that routes and integrates data, and governs the whole process, on its way to its final destination.
So it shouldn’t be surprising in this year of the cloud and virtualization that Tibco has become the latest IT software infrastructure provider to offer a way for its customers to take advantage of the cloud,. Initially that will be Amazon EC2, but going forward there are likely to be other clouds – public and private – that Tibco will support.
Its offering, now in beta, is branded Silver, based on the notion that there is a silver lining in the cloud. In this case the lining is mediation, and governance of an environment that provides the kind of elasticity that would not otherwise be feasible with dedicated internal environments.
Not surprisingly, Silver is a manifestation in the cloud of most but not all of Tibco’s Active Matrix SOA middleware for composing, integrating, and transporting services, plus governance of the process to monitor service levels. To get an idea of what services Silver provides, look at Tibco’s Active Matrix tooling and that will give you a good idea.
For the cloud, Tibco extended many of its Active Matrix tools with new caching and user and session management capabilities to preserve state within a virtual environment. To get a very simple idea of how Silver, or Active Matrix in the cloud differs from how you would the tools on premises, you would compose by using a tool that closely resembles the Eclipse-based Active Matrix Business Studio, build a deployment archive, and then set it free. By contrast, if you were composing the same composite service-oriented application on premises, you would have to set up the testing and staging environments, then configure it for deployment on as local server. Tibco manages the underlying plumbing, providing the load balancing, failover, fault tolerance, provisioning and de-provisioning of machine instances (in this case Amazon EC2 AMIs), and service level monitoring.
Silver is still a beta, which should be pretty obvious if you go to the Silver website; it contains only barebones information at this point. Silver is essentially a pure-play Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering that enables you to compose service-oriented applications fore the cloud, in the cloud. But as Tibco has always been a technology-driven company, it does a good job of explaining the tooling that it has offered but has not exactly flushed out the use cases covering the why.
As further evidence that Silver is still a work in progress, Tibco has not taken advantage of all the assets it has to truly tap the potential of composition in the cloud. For instance, while you can orchestrate and compose, you cannot necessarily model and execute the business processes that its BPM suite offers. However, it’s very understandable that BPM did not make it into the beta as that is a major chunk of technology that only addresses a portion of what its customer base needs.
But what is more surprising is that Silver for now ignores one of the most obvious use cases for the cloud: the ability to compose mashups on the fly, putting a front end to the services that customers are composing (the company has its own Ajax tools). As the cloud is in essence a lightweight approach to application deployment, so are mashups to integration. It would be logical icing on the cake were Tibco to pitch Silver as an easy composition environment for piecing together processes, services, and cool pieces of the web so business users could readily gain the flexibility of orchestration, and the accessibility and ease of deployment of the cloud.
Thank you Larry for finally putting us out of our misery, as Oracle has finally silenced the chattering classes (mea culpa) with a $9.50/share bid for Sun (almost smack dab in the middle between IBM’s original and revised lower bids).
In many ways this deal brings events full circle between Oracle and Sun. The obvious part is that the deal solidifies Oracle’s enterprise stack vs. IBM in that Oracle can now go fully mano a mano against IBM for the enterprise data center, database, platform and all. It also provides a welcome counterbalance to IBM for control over Java’s destiny. While the deal is likely to finally put NetBeans out of its misery, it means that there will be a competition over direction of the Java stack that is borne of realpolitik, not religion.
More importantly, it finally gives Solaris a meaning for existence as it returns to serving as Oracle’s reference platform. In a way, you could state that both companies were twins separated at birth, as both emerged as the de facto reference platforms for UNIX in the 80s; the deal was sealed with Sun’s purchase of some of the assets of Cray in the mid 90s that finally gave Sun an enterprise server on which Oracle could raise the ante on IBM. Aside from HP’s brief challenge with SAP in the mid 90s, Solaris has always been the biggest platform for Oracle.
But after the dot com bust and emergence of Linux, Solaris lost its relevance as open source provided an 80/20 alternative that was good enough for most dot coms. It left Sun with an identity crisis, debated much on these pages and elsewhere, as to its next act. Under Jonathan Schwartz’s watch, Sun tried becoming the enterprise counter pole to Red Hat – all the goodness of open source, MySQL too, but with the bulletproofing that Red Hat and SuSE were missing. As we noted a few weeks back, great idea, but not enough to support a $5 billion business.
Now Solaris becomes part of the Oracle enterprise stack – a marriage that makes sense as businesses investing in high end enterprise applications are going to expect umbrella deals. In other words, now Oracle has the complete deal to counter IBM. Oracle in the past has flirted with database appliances and certified implementations – now it doesn’t have to flirt anymore. More importantly, it provides a natural platform for Oracle to offer its own cloud.
The deal protects Sun’s – likely soon to be Oracle’s – hold on the Solaris installed base more than it protects the Oracle database, application or middleware stack. Basically, shades of UNIX hardware are commodity and more readily replaced than databases or applications. That’s why you saw Sun try developing a software business over years as it desperately needed something firmer to anchor Solaris. Oracle seals the deal.
Obviously, this one makes PeopleSoft and Siebel walks in the park, if you compare the scale of the deal. Miko Matsumura and Vinnie Merchandani have their doubts as to how well this beast will swallow the prey.
CORRECTION: The PeopleSoft deal was larger and marked the beginning of Oracle’s grand acquisitions spree. But this deal marks a major new chapter in the way it could transform Oracle’s core business.
While there is plenty of discussion of how this changes the lineup of who delivers to the data center, we’ll focus on some of the interesting implications for developers.
For starters, my colleague Dana Gardner had an interesting take on what this means for MySQL, which he calls MyToast. We concur with the rest of his analysis -– but depart from it on this one. First, this is open source, and in this case, open source where the genie is already out of the bottle. Were Oracle to try killing MySQL, there would be nothing to stop enterprising open source developers and some of the old MySQL team from developing a YourSQL. Secondly, MySQL was never going to seriously compete with Oracle as the database, in spite of improvement, remains too underpowered. Our take is that Oracle could take the opportunity to cultivate the base and develop the makings of a lightweight middleware stack that for the most part would be found money, rather than cannibalization, of its core business.
The other interesting question concerns Java. Three words: NetBeans is history.
Sun’s problem was that the company was too much under the control of engineers -– otherwise, how to explain why the company kept painting itself into corners with technologies increasingly off the mainstream, like NetBeans, or the more recent JavaFX Java-native rich internet client? Now that it “owns” the origins of the Java stack, we expect Oracle to provide counterweight to IBM/Eclipse, but as mentioned earlier, it will be one borne of nuance rather than religion. You can see it already in Oracle’s bifurcated Eclipse strategy, where its core development platform, JDeveloper, is not Eclipse-compliant, but the recently acquired BEA stack is. In some areas, such as Java persistence, Oracle has taken lead billing. Anyway, as Eclipse has spread from developer to run time platform, why would Oracle give up its position as a member of Eclipse’s board.
We see a different fate for JavaFX, however. If you recall, one of the first things that Oracle did after closing the BEA acquisition was dropping BEA’s deal to bundle the Adobe Flash client as part of its Java development suite. Instead, Oracle’s RIA strategy consisted of donating its Java Server Faces (JSF) to Apache as the MyFaces project. As JSF is server side technology for deploying the MVC framework to Java, we expect that Oracle will view JavaFX as the lightweight Java-native rich client alternative, providing web developers dual alternatives for deploying rich functionality.
An elusive goal of software development has been the invention of an easy-to-use platform that end users can write their own programs without having to rely on developers. Of course the very notion of “writing programs” is not exactly the kind of thing that you would expect your grandmother to do, not to mention business stakeholders who do not fall under the category of “power users.” To date, that goal has only been realized with the common office productivity tools that are equipped on just about every desktop which provide bare bones features for extending a spreadsheet or word processed document with a macro, and to varying extents, hobbyist programs like kinder simpler photo editors that are thrown in gratis with Windows or Mac platforms. But for the most part these are automation, not programming tools.
Ubiquity is still at what Mozilla calls the 0.1 phase, which is the equivalent of a community preview alpha. In the long run, we’d doubt that Ubiquity will gain critical mass as standalone. Instead, we’d expect that third parties would write Firefox plug-ins that make the process much more graphical so you don’t have to type in a question, like “find me some reviews,” or more context-centric, such as party, meeting, or travel planners, and so on.
It’s a technology concept that could also lend itself to other leading portal sites like Facebook, Yahoo News, and so on for adding more context-centric productivity drop-down choices to embellish messaging, Wikis, micro-blogging, or other uses limited only by the imagination. Keep your eye on this. But on the other hand, don’t be lulled into the notion that Ubiquity will finally make developers non-ubiquitous at least in the enterprise, as at some point, companies still need to exercise adequate controls over the behavior of software and the data that it exposes.
A conversation this week with database veteran Jnan Dash reminded us of one salient fact regarding computing, and more specifically, software platforms. That there never was and never will be a single grand unifying platform that totally flattens the playing field and eradicates all differences.
Dash should know, having been part of the teams that developed DB2, and after that, Oracle, who currently keeps off the street by advising tools companies that have gotten past startup phase. For now, his gig is advising Curl, developers of a self-contained language for Rich Internet Applications (RIA) combining declarative GUI and OO business logic inside the same language, which had the misfortune of emerging before its time (the term RIA had yet to be coined).
Curl provides an answer to unifying one piece of the process – developing the rich front end. But it’s a far cry from the false euphoria over “Write once, run anywhere” that emerged during Web 1.0, where the train of thought was on a single language (Java or later, C#) for logic on a single mid-tier back end and a universal HTML, HTTP, and TCP/IP stack for connectivity to the front end. Of course, not all web browsers were fully W3C compliant, and in the end, bandwidth killed the idea of Java applets (the original vision for RIA) and disputes between Sun and Microsoft gave rise to a Java/.NET duopoly on the back end. But the end result was not only a dumbed down thin client that was little more than a green screen with a pretty face, but also a dumbed down IDE market, as the Java/.NET duopoly effectively made development tooling commodity. Frankly, it made the tools market quite boring.
That’s in marked contrast to the swirl of competition that characterized the 4GL client/server era a few years before, where emergence of two key standards (SQL databases and Windows clients) provided a standard enough target that spawned a vibrant market of competing languages and IDEs that rapidly pushed innovation. Competition between VB, SQL Windows, PowerBuilder, Delphi and others spawned a race for ease of use, a secondary market for visual controls, simplified database connectivity, and birth of ideas like model-driven development and unified software development lifecycles.
What’s ironic is that today, roughly a decade later, we’re still trying to get to many of those goals. Significantly, as technology grew commodity, most of the innovation shifted to process methodology (witness the birth of the Agile Manifesto back in 2001).
While agile methodologies are continuing to evolve, we sense that the pendulum of innovation is shifting back to technology. In a talk on scaling agile at the Rational Software Development Conference last week, Scott Ambler told agile folks to, in effect, grow up and embrace some more traditional methods – like perform some modeling before you start – if you’re trying agile on an enterprise scale.
More to the point, the combined impacts of emergence of Web 2.0, emergence of open source, and a desire to simplify development such as what former Burton analyst Richard Monson-Haefel (who’s now an evangelist with Curl) termed the J2EE rebel frameworks spawned a new diversity of technology approaches and architectures.
Quoted in an article by John Waters, XML co-inventor and Sun director of web technologies Tim Bray recently acknowledged some of the new diversity in programming languages. “Until a few years ago, the entire world was either Java or .NET… And now all of a sudden, we have an explosion of new languages. We are at a very exciting inflection point where any new language with a good design basis has a chance of becoming a major player in the software development scene.”
Beyond languages, a partial list of innovations might include:
• A variety of open source frameworks like Spring or Hibernate that are abstracting (and simplifying use of) Java EE constructs and promoting a back to basics movement with Plain Old Java Objects (POJOs) and rethinking of the appserver tier;
• Emergence of mashups as a new path for accessible development and integration;
• Competition between frameworks and approaches for integrating design and development of Internet apps too rich for Ajax;
• Emergence of RESTful style development as simpler alternatives for data-driven SOA; and in turn,
• New competition for what we used to call component-based development; e.g., whether components should be formed at the programming language level (EJB, .NET) vs. web services level (Service Component Architecture, or SCA).
In short, there are no pat answers to developing or composing applications; it’s no longer simply, choose vanilla or chocolate for the back end, and using generic IDEs for churning out logic and presentation. In other words, competition has returned to software development technologies and architectural approaches, making the marketplace interesting once again.
How often have you heard vendors extol their products as being so simple that people from the business side can take charge and configure their reports, manage their portals, or if you listen to all the enterprise mashup providers, that business people can assemble neat little personalized disposable apps without having to call on IT? We’ve seen our share of easy-to-use end-user tools that look pretty impressive, and at times have drank the Kool-Aid ourselves.
Reviewing the proceeding of a panel session at this past week’s Enterprise 2.0 conference, prolific BPM blogger Sandy Kemsley gave us a fresh shot of common sense. Commenting on a panel session that covered how mashups could consume data from basic, ubiquitous sources such as Atom/RSS feeds, SOAP, RESTful services, etc., Kemsley reminded us that when you put together mashups, the processes is akin to piecing together what we’d term jigsaw puzzle: you have to know something about how the pieces fit together. She stated that you need to consider the interfaces, and concluded, “Realistically, business users still can’t do mashups, in spite of what the vendors tell you…”
She stated that dragging and dropping is, literally, only the tip of the iceberg, as you need to know how those pieces may interact (isn’t that the point of doing a mashup?). Otherwise, if you just stick a two, three or more silo’ed data sources on your screen that don’t interact, you’re simply putting together a portal page, which may be OK in and of itself. It’s the difference between a dynamic mashup of a Google Map which shows the location of the sales leads that you overlaid atop it, or just a Google Map with a static table that doesn’t show where on the map those leads are. And, as we wrote after a conversation with Informatica’s Ashutosh Kulkarni a few months back, issues such as architectural integrity, customer privacy protection, or access control may not necessarily be forefront on the end user’s mind.
Admittedly, enterprise mashup providers like Serena and IBM remind us that their offerings provide protected sandboxes within which business users can mash safely vetted assets to limit or eliminate the possibility of data breaches. Clearly, mashups have the potential to make disposable applications more accessible to the rest of us. Just don’t forget to get some adult supervision.
In so doing, Nexaweb is tilting at windmills because the Ajax style, and the culture that has emerged around it, has tended to be very fast and loose – and resistant to standards. That accounts for the rash of enterprise mashup hubs and protected sandboxes, as they are based on the idea that, while you may not be able to clean up Ajax-style development, if you place firmly guarded borders around it (e.g., carefully vet what can be mashed up), at least you won’t smother it.
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