Q & A:
- By Jack Vaughan
- May 29, 2001
You're coming out of a user conference. What have your users been doing
that surprised you?
We found a lot of customers who were looking at much more expansive
use of the Web across their organizations. A lot of customers have been
building 'one-off' projects, maybe part of a Web group or part of an IT
organization, but it seems like there's a huge up-tick in the number who
are looking at making their Web software infrastructure much more broad
and expansive in terms of the applications that they're going to build
and in the systems that they're going to buy and implement across their
organization. Certainly, we see a lot more interest in business-to-business
commerce using XML and HTTP to integrate systems across the 'Net. Those
are some of the things that I picked up on.
What do you see going on with the Open Source Movement? Is it a threat
to the application server eventually?
We've spent a lot of time looking at the impact of open source on our
marketplace, on the Internet as a whole, and very clearly it's having
a significant impact. I think, over time, the closer your technology is
to being a commodity, the more appropriate it is to be something that's
open source. The more strategic the technology, or the more value-add
in the technology, the less likely it is to be under a pure open source
Corporations' desire to have commercial software and to have a vendor
relationship around that commercial software hasn't changed at all. What
we are seeing change is customer expectations about their ability to impact
the evolution of the software - their ability to have visibility into
the technology in a way that, historically, vendors were unwilling to
When we've thought about this, we've thought about how we take advantage
of our customer base - hundreds of thousands of developers who've got
great skills in working with our platform. How do we take advantage of
those skills to drive our technology forward? With the Internet and the
ability to have instant communication, it actually becomes very easy to
Are people these days developing on Windows and deploying on Linux?
Currently, visual tools that people use are predominantly on Windows,
and I think that will continue to be the case. I don't think it's necessarily
that they're going to be thinking about it as deploying Linux applications,
because no one is deploying Linux applications.
In some ways, the appeal of Linux is not that it's an app platform like
Windows NT systems services provide an app platform. It's just commodity
plumbing for what you need to host your Web systems. It's low cost, you
can scale it in clusters like a commodity, there are a lot of people who
know how to work with it and administer it, and it's reliable and robust.
People aren't thinking about how to add value to Linux, by, for example,
adding a new widget to make the Linux desktop better. They're just saying
this is a great, reliable server platform for Web systems. The products
that they're interested in on that platform are the popular commercial
application server products and database products. I think they'll do
Is this at the expense more of Windows NT than, say, Solaris?
Yes, I think it is. The appeal of NT is it's a commodity-priced product,
roughly speaking. You're not talking about hundreds of thousands or tens
of thousands of dollars - you're talking about thousands of dollars. It
runs on commodity hardware and a mix of different types of hardware. It's
got a lot of the features that are needed for the Internet built in. For
Linux as well, that certainly is the appeal. The only things that need
to change to make that overlap more direct is making sure that the user
interface and manageability of the systems are on par with what people
get from NT.
The next version of NT [Windows 2000] will eventually have a lot
of middleware and pseudo-application server capabilities inside it. How
do you see that playing out?
You're referring to COM+ and the message queuing and transaction server,
that kind of stuff? The interesting thing about that is that it's been
in NT for a couple of years. It's been in NT through service packs, but
also in the commercial versions now, and the core pieces - at least MTS
and MSMQ - have a basic COM infrastructure. Microsoft has been successful
in getting the top tier of its customer base to start working with and
building to that. I think, though, that there are a couple of things to
note. One is that the vast majority of apps built for the Internet - built
on Web application servers, deployed on browsers and so on - don't take
advantage of that level of infrastructure. They simply don't need to.
It's sort of like the 80-20 rule. In the prior computing eras, 80% of
the software was built with desktop tools like Visual Basic or Pascal,
and then there was a smaller percentage that were implemented in things
We've talked for a long time about systems like CORBA, DCOM, message
queue systems, etc. and they haven't got mass appeal. You can't go to
a developers' conference and find gobs of people implementing on top of
them. It's on people's radar, but there's just not enormous traction there.
In the Internet space, once you start getting into Internet applications,
you're dealing with software that's deployed outside your corporation
- in fact, it's deployed with the entire purpose of integrating with your
business partners, customers and other things. In that situation, all
of those standards and all of these architectures that have emerged collapse
on themselves because they're built on binary protocols and on high-latency
networks where you can rely on controlling the platform that you're using
to integrate your software.
On the Internet you have low-latency networks, you have no control over
the platforms that your customers and suppliers use, and you have this
flat protocol, HTTP, which is what's used to enable the Web. In that new
universe, in some ways, we're going to have to build what I call XML Internet
middleware from scratch.
There's a new set of requirements. Just as Windows 2000 is hitting the
market with a heavy infrastructure that is geared toward inside a corporation
and, likewise, with things like J2EE hitting the market this year with
an inside-the-corporation focus, the most sophisticated customers want
to go beyond that and integrate apps and build distributed apps across
the Internet. That presents a different set of challenges.
Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) at one time seemed like the most
logical competitor to ColdFusion, and you seem to have successfully repelled
that onslaught. What are the advantages vs. the ASP solution that you
You have to step back. At one level, the CFML language and programming
model, which is a feature of our application server, competes with the
Active Server Pages model. And I think that what has allowed us to be
successful is that our basic model for programming the Web and for rapidly
designing and building Web systems is much better designed explicitly
for Internet systems, whereas the Microsoft model is an evolutionary model
from their existing programming language, tools and infrastructure set.
I think that's continued to make Allaire's platform very compelling for
companies and individuals who are focused on the Web.
I think more importantly, though, that what has continued to make our
platform very, very successful is that we've continued to add a lot of
services and value on top of that core approach. So when you look at,
say, ColdFusion 4.0 or 4.5, there's a lot of technology that the customer
is interested in that has nothing to do with the language and the programming
model. For instance, clustering and failover services are just part of
the [ColdFusion] app server. ASP does not put that in. You don't have
a really robust form of clustering and failover services as just part
of the ASP environment. That's one example.
Another example would be advanced security APIs that make it easy to
do registration systems, membership databases, and user login and access
control. A lot of things that people tend to build over and over in the
Web space, we build that stuff into our app server. We also take a lot
of the primary problems that people have like integrating Internet protocols,
FTP E-mail and other protocols they're going to use on the back end of
their application, and build higher level components that are much easier
to use than having to go down and build your own custom objects and script
those. We've just continued to pack a lot of productivity punch into the
environment for users.
Along those lines, I think ASP was supposed to kill you, Java was
thrived in the face of that. What's the secret?
What we're finding is that in companies there's a pyramid of project
types and developer skill sets. The pyramid has a large percentage of
people who are in that Web development category who are responsible for
rapid development and deployment of Web systems. It's a huge percentage
of what people have to do. When we look at the pyramid, we see that in
some ways you have a hierarchy where you have your lowest level infrastructure,
your transaction infrastructure, and it very much should be implemented
in Java, and we're seeing traction for that. We're embracing that and
building that into our platform so that we can be very attractive to that
developer and skill set. And then there's this huge percentage of people
who are assembling and building applications, integrating those with dynamic
content, HTML and XML, and there something like ColdFusion's markup language
becomes extremely compelling.
What has allowed us to survive in some sense, and our secret, if you
will, is understanding the relationship between all these different constituencies
and designing the appropriate technology for them.
It took everyone except Microsoft and Allaire three years to figure
out that you needed a page-based script, plus HTML, plus objects on a
server model for building Web applications. JSP only [recently] became
a reference spec. The rest of the industry has finally kind of figured
What advances are you seeing in Internet components?
Internet components will eventually look more like traditional components
with objects and things like that. You will have XML components and those
will oftentimes encapsulate things like Java underneath.
Say I am a Web site, and I have a relationship with another Web site
that has an online catalog. Let's say I'm a vertical portal, an Italian
food-lovers' Web site, and I want to be able to resell cookbooks from
Amazon.com. How does Amazon.com expose to me, the other Web site owner,
a component that I can use that provides the Amazon catalog and order
processing engine? How do I do that? You do that with XML and HTTP. So
I have my Web site, and when a user wants to get a list of books, I want
to make a remote call, similar to how RPC mechanisms work, to the Amazon.com
Internet site, and query the catalog and then get the contents back and
render them for my customer.
I would call these XML Internet components. This is the cutting edge,
I think, of distributed software in the Internet arena. And we're putting
a huge investment into this for the next year. XML Internet components
will be a significant event.
Your name and your brother's name is on the door - that's unique
One nice thing about the name of the company is that to people the word
"Allaire" doesn't have a lot of meaning. It's not like "super-net-pro"
or some silly name. That's worked out for us.
I think, ultimately, that we believe that our vision and what we're
trying to get done is very important. If people want to associate that
with our products and company, I think that's fine. A lot of companies
have their IPO and people leave; that's clearly not what we're up to.
In fact, if you look at the history of the company, and you look at how
we've grown, we've been methodical, pragmatic and we haven't over-invested.
We haven't tried to be a thousand people overnight, and we haven't tried
to overachieve when it wasn't feasible or possible. We've just consistently
plugged away at our vision, and delivered products and value to customers.