September 2006


In an example of my blog eating my post, I just realized that I had written this originally on September 19, but neglected to publish it until now.

WAS Community Edition is available for download here, and it now comes with 30 days of free support, so go give it a try!

WAS CE adds support for Java SE 5 (on the IBM JDK), even more nifty deployment capabilities to simplify deployment/redeployment and an updated Eclipse plug-in for developing and debugging using the Eclipse WTP 1.5.  WAS CE also picked up all of the critical defect fixes from Apache Geronimo 1.1.1.  There’s more info on WAS CE 1.1 for you to read here.

I’ve always liked this page because it shows a high-level architecture of WAS CE (i.e. how you get Tomcat, AXIS, etc. and only use what you need), so check it out also.

Matt Asay questions whether a recent Gartner analyst presentation on application development is in fact promoting further use of open source. 

I think the Gartner guys are talking more about custom development of, say industry or line of business specific applications.  These applications may be built using open source components (Apache HTTP, AXIS etc).  And enterprises will surely begin to increasingly choose open source applications like DimDim and Alfresco over WebEx and Documentum.

But when it comes to writing an application that allocates shipments into trucks based on volume/weight/destination etc., you’re going to probably write that app yourself.  I think that the Gartner analysts are saying that when you do write that application, make sure you’re reusing functionality that you’ve developed in-house, or functionality that is being exposed to you from other parts of your supply/value chain, likely via web services.

It is possible that industry groups will realize that it makes more sense to write the foundation or a framework for an industry-specific applications jointly (like this example in the Healthcare industry), and use a BSD-based license that still enables each individual company to make the customizations appropriate for their individual internal processes, and to gain a competitive advantage.

But in either case, I agree with Matt that more open source usage is coming down the pipe ;-)

IT Analyst James Governor from RedMonk has a posting about what IBM needs to do to get more involved in the web 2.0 world.

Here is my response to James:

Re. WAS CE, I don’t think Buell, or anyone at IBM, would say that WAS CE is IBM’s answer to the Web 2.0 question. <shamelessPlugForMyOldProduct> WAS CE is really intended to answer the question: “how do we deal with customers, developers and partners that want a rock-solid, light-weight J2EE application server with the latest innovations from an open community, that can be used for free or a minimal cost?” </shamelessPlugForMyOldProduct>

Now to the broader question posed by James re. Web 2.0. I think we need a definition of Web 2.0 before discussing it. I like Tim O’Reilly’s seven principles of Web 2.0:

1. The Web as Platform
2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence
3. Data is the Next “Intel Inside”
4. End of the Software Release Cycle
5. Lightweight Programming Models
6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device
7. Rich User Experiences

Before we go much further, I think we need to settle of the fact that IBM is by in large a Java shop (just as Oracle, Sun, BEA and others are). This is not a statement of goodness or badness, just a statement of fact, well near fact, because IBM has lots of customers using COBOL, C, Smalltalk, FORTRAN, and other languages that I can spell but were in use before my birth.

The problem that all Java-vendors are facing is the fact that Java, as wonderful as it is, really isn’t what a typical Web 2.0 developer is using. I could go on, but this article from O’Reilly on Java’s role in web 2.0 does the trick. As a related aside, here’s a great pitch from Cal Henderson of Flickr on the technologies that drive Flickr.

Now, with this in mind:

As stated by James, turing on the infrastructure for hosting a Web 2.0 platform for customers, developers and partners isn’t the major issue, since IBM already has the infrastructure. But having the infrastructure isn’t going to guarantee a “Build it and they will come” success story.

To ensure success for IBM’s Web 2.0 hosting platform (which I’m sure any number of IBM strategy teams are looking at, have looked at, or will look at), IBM needs to give precedence to Web 2.0 technologies over Java. To be fair, this is happening already. If you visited developerWorks 5 years ago, it was really a Java-centric site, now there is a spotlight on many other technologies.

But this is where all Java-centric vendors including IBM have to walk a fine line between current customers and potential customers.

Option 1: If IBM were to announce broad-based support for a scripting language (PHP, Python, or gasp! Perl), then current customers would be calling their sales reps asking if their Java investments were safe. Competing Java vendors would be contacting said customers to spread FUD about IBM’s waning interest in Java. Insert risk, panic and mass hysteria here.

Option 2: If IBM sits on the fence and continues to push for integration of scripting languages onto of current Java-based IBM products, like this or this from BEA or this from Oracle, they stand to miss addressing the core customer need. Web 2.0 notables like Digg or Flickr (Yahoo) wants to use a technology like PHP in a fashion that highlights the light-weight, yet powerful and iterative, nature of PHP. Putting PHP inside of a Java container of any size, adds complexity that a Web 2.0 developer isn’t truly willing to accept, especially when the code-save-refresh metaphor of Web 2.0 development is hindered with the structured development/deployment model associated with Java/J2EE.

Most of the time, given the choice, all established companies will take the less risky route. IBM, BEA, Oracle and Sun are no different. Option 1 above would be laden with risk, but the benefit would be giving the grassroots developer, customer, and partner, what they want, really, really want (random Spice Girls reference). We shouldn’t neglect the issue of Java-centric vendors being known as, well, Java-centric. So, for example, it’s not as if a developer will turn to BEA for a PHP solution just because they announced support for PHP. This roadblock is not insurmountable, but it shouldn’t be neglected.

To date, Java-centric vendors including IBM have chosen Option 2 because it is less risky, plays to their strengths and continues to build value in Java (which is where Java-centric vendors have invested hundreds of millions or billions of dollars over the past decade). And to present a balanced argument, a current Java-centric customer may actually, in the long run, want to write Web 2.0 applications using their favourite Java infrastructure, to leverage their Java investments also. But in the short term, when they are getting their Web 2.0 feet wet, it won’t be by using their favourite Java infrastructure. It will be by following the best practices of ‘best infrastructure‘ that Web 2.0 stars are using, namely LAMP.

So James, I’d propose that the hosting infrastructure for Web 2.0 is one part of the puzzle for IBM’s strategy for Web 2.0. If the hosting infrastructure is just a way to push more Java towards the customer/developer/partner, then a significant portion of customers/developers/partners will look for an alternative platform that lets them use LAMP to get whatever it is they need to get done. At least in the (critical) short term while they get familiar with the ‘brave new world’.

Two ‘big’ news items today:

1. Apple is trying to prevent folks from using the word ‘podcast’
2. IBM is pushing for patent reforms

On the surface, it would look like one company (IBM) is opening up their komodo while the other (Apple) is closing it, or at least trying to put some pants on underneath.

But often, there’s more to a story than your initial gut response.

Re. IBM’s announcement, the part that made me happy is the assertion

“that so-called business methods alone — broad descriptions of ideas, without technical specifics — should not be patentable.”

Cool, make it so! Now, it would be interesting to know how many of the patents IBM received over the past 5 years fall into this ‘business methods’ bucket. And let’s sweeten the pot by pledging not to enforce said patents. Go IBM, make your employees feel warm and fuzzy for doing the right thing before the “market considers it the right thing”. We’ve done it before.

So, IBM’s being more open, but there’s more that can be done. Baby steps I guess.

Re. Apple: Everybody calls facial tissue ‘Kleenex’, and photocopiers ‘Xerox machines’. But if I try to brand my facial tissue company ‘KleenNose’ or ‘KleenexPlus’ or my whiz-bang photocopier ‘Xeroxr’ (an ode to Flickr), well, Kleenex and Xerox are going to want to have a little sit down with me.

Anonymous Codger on slashdot says:

“Looks to me like Apple is going after companies trying to profit from their trademark. They’re not going after the term Podcasting in general use, they’re simply trying to stop companies from using the term in for-profit activities. The term obviously refers to iPods, so it makes sense to me that Apple would defend their trademark in this way.”

If you read the Cease & Desist letter, I’d have to agree with Anonymous Codger. Apple isn’t saying don’t use the term ‘podcast’, they are saying don’t use the term ‘podcast’ in a company name or the name of a commercial product. And if they don’t attempt to defend their trademark (iPod), then Apple stands to lose it.

So maybe Apple isn’t being as closed as they appear to be at first glance

Dave responded to the previous posting that I’d left on ZDNet here.

Below is my reply to Dave:
Dave,

When I donate to a charity, I do so because I feel fortunate to have the life that I do, and I’d appreciate someone else helping me out (directly or via an intermediary) if I were down on my luck. So, call that altruism if you like, but there’s an even helping of “keeping my karma positive” in there.

I agree that you don’t have to spend your night and day working on projects for the contribution to “count”. My point is that you will contribute to the project until it no longer makes sense (i.e. your capital expended is more than the capital you receive).

At the end of the day, nobody does anything without wanting something in return (be it the well wishes of others, knowing you’ll get helped down the road, food, money, shelter, a date, salvation, etc).

To your point about valuable projects being picked up by others, this doesn’t negate what I’m saying. If you started a project, worked night and day on it (or worked 1 hr a week) and got a job because of the project (or some other form of recognition), then to you, the capital received as a result of your OSS project contributions are more than the capital you expended. Hence you’re happy.

Now, if you decided to do something else, the person that picks up stewardship of the OSS project will only do so if it’s beneficial to himself. Now, “beneficial to himself” does not mean that there has to be some financial reward. The reward can be whatever the person feels is valuable enough to trade their free time to work on the OSS project in question.

ZDNet has an article on “Altruism and open source“, in which the relationship of open source success and altruism is discussed.

Personally, I’m not sure Altruism has anything to do with why developers choose to participate in open source projects.

As ESR pointed out in The Cathedral & The Bazaar, the reasons for developer involvement in OSS projects are often internally focused.  Things like, recognition of peers, having a need for the resulting software, etc.

I’ve likened this to the idea of a Capital Equation that, when balanced in your favour, you’re happy to contribute to the community, answer forum questions, fix bugs etc.  However, when the capital you expend on the OSS project is outweighed by the capital you receive back (i.e. from recognition, savings vs. going out and buying a commercial product, etc), then you’re going to want to tip the capital equation back in your favour again…and well, go get a job that pays you to work on the project full-time.  The other alternative is to work less on the project, to the point that you’re not expending more capital than you are receiving.  This happened with Linux developers, and with JBoss as the article points out.

BusinessWeek has an article on Oracle’s recent quarterly results. After a string of acquisitions over the past 2 years, Oracle surprised onlookers who questioned Oracle’s ability to manage the multiple major acquisitions (PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel). Note that I didn’t say integrate the acquisitions, as that piece of work won’t be completed until Project Fusion is completed.

One quote from the story really made me think: Chief Executive Larry Ellison explained Oracle’s growth vs. SAP’s lackluster results due in part to:

“…SAP’s reliance on its own programming language vs. Oracle’s open-standards, Java-based approach…”

Larry is bang on with his views that open will always, over time, beat closed. I just wonder how long it will be until open source ERP & CRM efforts such as Compiere ERP+CRM (1,114,479 downloads), vtiger CRM (386,387 d/l) and SugarCRM (265,239), to name a few, will begin to put price pressure on Oracle (and SAP). I know, that these download numbers are but a drop in the bucket compared to the number of Oracle and SAP customers. But even if open source ERP & CRM projects begin to penetrate the SMB market or in emerging markets, where Oracle & SAP have both expressed a need to grow, then we may even see a ‘starter’ open source ERP/CRM solution from Oracle or SAP. That may be wishful thinking, considering that Oracle has already shown a reluctance to open source any of it’s database technology, but rather, just offer a free, limited capability, version.

What if a big IT vendor or an Asian outsourcing vendor were to throw its weight behind an open source ERP & CRM project? It’s only a matter of time.

The idea of paying outsiders to work on product features is beginning to take hold. Neuros, a media device developer, is openly allowing owners to hack into their systems to build new features. Users that contribute needed features (like allowing YouTube & Google videos to play on the Neuros OSD, or adding VoIP functionality) will get paid between $500 and $1000.

As long as the bounties attract developers who can be turned into fans of the project in question, the benefits include:

  • Attracting attention to your product
  • Attracting the attention of hackers, who are typically early adopters (a la Crossing the Chasm), and mavens/connectors (a la The Tipping Point)
  • Helping to build a developer community
  • Identifying potential future employees
  • Cheaper than doing it in-house

The trick is to get developers who aren’t just bouncing from bounty-to-bounty.

PS: The Neuros website states:

“At Neuros, our unique commitment to open-source product development allows our users to be active participants in making our portable media devices the best in the world.”

Wow, what if all consumer electronics companies took this approach (Ahem..Apple), or at the very least, took the TiVo approach of not officially supporting mods, but wink, wink, supporting modifications? It’s a matter of time until all software companies take this approach, to varying degrees ;-)

CNNMoney.com ran an article on Google titled “Chaos by design” on Wednesday. It’s a pretty good read for a couple of reasons:

1- Shows that Google, while loved by many, hasn’t had a string of product successes (beyond google.com) that we all seem to attribute to it. Don’t get me wrong, GMail, Google Maps & Picasa make life easier, but their success pales in comparison to their search products.

2- The focus on ‘controlled’ chaos is interesting because it encourages the approach of “trying things out to see if they will work”. While reading the article, I was thinking: “I wish IBM was more like this; you know, willing to let things get a little chaotic here and there.” But then I realized that in its small ways, IBM is doing just that (as are other companies I’m sure).

Kicking off the Eclipse Project or acquiring Gluecode are but two examples of IBM’s attempts with controlled chaos. IBM’s InnovationJam is definitely another example. For those of you that don’t know, InnovationJam is basically a very-loosely structured online message board collaboration held over a week or so, with IBM employees over the world. This year, they expanded the participation to partners, customers and family of IBMers. The collaboration is intended to unearth ideas for IBM to pursue. It’s like a big hairy “suggestions box” (well, if the suggestion box allowed everyone else to critique and build on ideas and actually write the business plans for the ideas). This IBM announced that $100 million in development funding would be available to help see the best ideas come to market. The ideas that will get funded aren’t selected on profitability alone. They’re using measures like benefits to society & people in emerging countries. Quite cool.

Maybe more of this type of thinking will permeate into IBM’s corporate culture.

ZDNet’s Dana Blankenhorn posted a story about the Pentaho hiring of key developers from the Weka Project. But he, like his CNet colleagues, still insists on calling the event an acquisition of an open source project. Sigh. Geeze, when Linus went and worked at Transmeta, would anyone have said that Transmeta acquired the Linux project?

Dana, give me two minutes of your time, and then give your readers the straight goods on the difference between a true open source community (which can’t be acquired), and a group of developers working in the open source arena, who can be hired or given a creamy milkshake. So, while the Weka developers now work for Pentaho, some other group of developers could come along and start with the Weka code (as it’s GPL licensed) and continue to develop/maintain it as a fork from whatever the Pentaho folks are doing.

I know you understand the difference. Now let’s spread the message about the value of a true open source community: let’s do it for the children (and your readers).

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