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CA marches through New Orleans

Summertime usually means it's time to go out on the road and partake in some user conferences. We recently had the opportunity to visit with Computer Associates (CA) and its users in New Orleans for just such a purpose. Certainly part of the appeal of a summerconference is to have some fun. This year, Computer Associates took this as a theme and ran with it -- the slogan, in fact, was 'The Fun of Software.'

Fun is sort of a relative concept, though. It is not always of a kind with software, particularly with the operational network and systems management types of software for which Computer Associates is famous. CA is very much about sensible shoes. But it is fair to say that in recent years Computer Associates has managed to position itself as more of a cutting-edge -- read cool, or fun -- firm than its mainline businesses would naturally betoken.

Having hip software serves a couple of purposes. Certainly, some advanced developers can exploit object-oriented database technology such as CA's Jasmine TND, although it should be noted that
Jasmine TND with predictive Neugents (neural agents) is increasingly discussed as a fait accompli when it is really just in beta.

Analysts at IDC, especially, have concluded that Jasmine TND is a great leap in distributed system programming and management. Do systems administrators benefit from the computer-game-style interfaces that Unicenter TNG offers? The visual elements of the product still seem a bit glitzy and oversold to this viewer. But in a software business in which hardware company Sun Microsystems has proved that cool software (read: Java) is of eminent importance, being cool or fun has added weight, and one would be surprised if Computer Associates didn't take its run at that type of fame.

For its part, CA has gradually increased the visibility of its advanced software offerings -- bringing out a highly visual interface one year, neural-style agent software another year, and so on. This year, it was visual that and e-this. While the depth of the reality of these offerings can be questioned, it should be said that the company has been generally consistent in this push -- it has not lurched this way and that under the strain of the Internet paradigm shift. A few others can't say that.

Recent visual leaps for CA take the form of little-noticed purchases. Last year the company acquired Viewpoint DataLabs, owners of a massive library of 3-D models, as well as 3Name3D, another 3-D modeling concern. These entities are carrying forward under the banner of Viewpoint Digital, a Computer Associates company. Their nifty images were highly promoted at CAWorld, and upcoming browser plug-ins will make this technology even more alluring.

You may get some notion of where this is headed by visiting www.metastream.com, a CA joint venture with MetaCreations Corp.

A pressing question for some at the conference was the status of newly acquired Platinum Technology. In New Orleans, CA pledged to continue to invest in Platinum business intelligence tools, which CA said represent a new market for the company. The company said Platinum's development life-cycle tools have a place in CA's future, and the Platinum Repository was similarly touted (CA said it would continue to enhance all three versions of that repository), although Platinum's repository partner, Microsoft, was not especially in evidence at the roadmap briefing. Meanwhile, Platinum's system management tools are expected to be subsumed under CA banners. As many as 2,000 of Platinum's 5,000 employees were reportedly laid off in the merger.

In his keynote, CA head Charles Wang urged customers to think 'outside of the box' -- to try and make the world a little better using technology. Ironically, this portion of his speech was quite reminiscent of erstwhile Platinum head Flip Filipowski's keynote at Platforum '98. "Having fun with software is a serious pursuit," noted Wang.

So the light touch was tempered. In e-commerce, Wang said, you must be fast or you may become a competitor's lunch. High-tech or low-tech, this 'eat or be eaten' attitude still informs CA's planning.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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