Still coding and tweaking
Sally Cusack, an analyst at IDC, said that the use of development tools
remains strong as organizations concentrate on extending and improving
on their installed packaged applications. "In theory, the use of packaged
applications allows IT organizations to put their developers on more creative
tasks designed to add unique value to supporting the business itself,"
she said. "However, while much of the integration technology is still
in its early stages, developers are still spending time on 'down and dirty'
coding and tweaking tasks even with the proliferation of packaged solutions."
Greg Leake, general product manager for
Microsoft Visual Studio, agrees that "some tools, like old-style CASE
tools unable to adapt to the Web paradigm, are likely on the wane
and are being used much less." Leake places Sybase's PowerBuilder,
Inprise's Delphi and Oracle's Dev 2000 in this category. "But on the
whole, we see that development tools have become even more central
to an organization's success.
Without the right development tools, there is no way an organization
could be effective with an e-commerce initiative," he noted. "From a Microsoft
tools perspective, we just completed our best year ever in terms of overall
"Sun defines the battle around Java the language and EJB the component
standard. But Microsoft frequently defines where the industry is focused,"
said Tom Keffer, chairman of Rogue Wave Software, a Boulder, Colo.-based
company with products spanning both the Microsoft and non-Microsoft camps.
"They pretty well define the development environment."
Change spares no one
Adjusting to the change in IT focus in recent years has been difficult
for many suppliers of application development products, according to several
"Many companies in this area are struggling due to an inability to move
their technology quickly enough to the mainstream," said IDC's Cusack.
"Others are struggling due to problems resulting from actions like mergers
"My thesis is that most vendors out there have an incomplete story --
only IBM has both the breadth and depth
of requirements," commented IBM's Swainson. "You need a complete life-cycle
solution. You need strong application development tools to build high-performance
applications and management tools to keep everything up and running.
"Microsoft has a complete story, but its horizontal with no depth. It
only runs within the context of Windows NT," added Swainson. "NT won't
be providing a platform that's capable of running an enterprise any time
soon. Sun has a story that's reasonably deep, but not horizontal. [It]
has a collection of tools without tight integration with application servers.
And BEA has a tight focus on transaction processing." [Ed Note: BEA was
also quick to ride the Java wave with its purchase of specialty server
house WebLogic in 1998.]
Said Swainson: "Oracle runs on lots of things. Oracle does the database
piece well, but the application server, systems management and tools pieces
Industry analysts and a slew of experts have been touting the benefits
of component-based development for large-scale systems for more than a
decade. Yet only Microsoft has found success selling the concept on client
machines. Microsoft's ActiveX components are supported only by the Windows
platform. IT groups building applications for the enterprise still seek
a silver bullet to cut down the substantial barriers to multiplatform,
server-side component-based development. The latest candidate to fulfill
the promise again comes courtesy of Java and its JavaBeans and Enterprise
Java- Beans (EJBs) component models.
Experts have long blamed a lack of standards for the dearth of components
beyond the Windows platform. A widespread embrace of the EJB specifications
by both large user organizations and the vendor community could quickly
expand the use of component technologies in corporate development organizations.
But based on the dubious history of standards that were touted by supporters
as vital to the future of computing -- witness the former Open Software
Foundation's OSF/1 Unix standard -- skepticism abounds.
"There is huge potential for component-based development that has not
been realized yet," said Li at Sybase. "It can become popular if there
are standards, but the software industry has not matured to that stage
yet. There are many political issues." Nonetheless, Li said he is convinced
that "in the long run [widespread component-based development] will happen."
IBM's SanFrancisco component architecture, unveiled more than five years
ago, has suffered through several fits and starts before latching onto
EJB. The 1994 plan called for IBM and a parade of partners to build reusable
components for the ISV community. That formula failed for several reasons,
but mostly because the components were based on a proprietary model that
kept the SanFrancisco components from working with those based on other
models. IBM changed the model several times in the intervening years before
settling on EJB with the SanFrancisco version that began shipping in mid-1999.
"Component-based development has emerged more slowly than we thought
it would due to a lack of a clear standard
for components on the server," said IBM's Swainson. "Now Enterprise JavaBeans
has emerged as a workable server standard, and applications based on that
model are starting to emerge."
"Component-based development is finally coming into the mainstream,"
said IDC's Cusack. "With the continuing solidification of industry standards
like Java-Beans, EJB and [Microsoft's] ActiveX, developers are beginning
to take advantage of the reuse capability promised by components." Cusack
said that IDC "projects significant growth in this area during 2000."
IBM's Swainson was a bit more cautious, reckoning that "it's going to
take the better part of the next decade before this becomes the prevalent
programming style. I see two phenomena. First, major companies like IBM
are providing useful components, and second the application vendors, the
ISVs, are restructuring applications along component lines. I think SAP
has seen the success of [rival applications supplier] Siebel Systems and
its component-based applications."
Downside of components and Internet
What does a genuine Web phenom make of all this? "In the Internet space,
where you're dealing with software deployed outside your organization,
all of these newly emerged standards and architectures can collapse on
themselves because they are built on binary protocols and high latency
networks where you can rely on the platform that you're using to integrate
your software," said Jeremy Allaire. But the Web is different.
"On the Internet, you have low latency. You have no control over the
platforms your customers and suppliers use, and you have this flat protocol
called HTTP, which is what is used to enable the Web," said Allaire. "In
that new universe, we're going to have to build XML middleware completely
independent of language and platforms from scratch. That's a completely
new set of requirements."
The inward focus of key vendors' component strategy will play out in
a variety of ways, said Allaire. He points
to the upcoming Windows NT remake, Windows 2000, which embeds significant
application server and component technology. The rollout of this platform,
clearly, will be closely watched by all in the year to come. At Comdex,
Microsoft went to lengths to allay fears about the stability of the new
"Core pieces of the basic COM infrastructure have been in NT in service
packs and commercial versions for a while," noted Allaire. "MTS has been
in NT. Microsoft has been successful in getting the top tier of its customer
base to migrate to that. But the vast majority of Web apps do not have
to use that infrastructure. There is not a huge percentage of apps that
need that on the Internet today.
"Just as Windows 2000 is hitting the market next year with a heavy infrastructure,
and likewise J2EE with its focus being inside the organization," added
Allaire, the most sophisticated customers will want to go beyond that
and distribute applications across the Internet. "That's a different set
of challenges," he noted.
Continuing, Allaire said the appeal of Linux has not been as an app
platform. "It's been more commodity plumbing for hosting Web [functions],"
he said. He agrees that this has affected NT, which Allaire
depicts as a commodity server offering.
Modeling and objects
At the root of many advances during this decade is object technology.
While it dares not speak the name 'object,' Java may be the biggest object
"Java essentially takes the object-oriented model and simplifies those
structures," said IBM's Steve Mills, general manager of software solutions.
"It is a better language for writing object implementations, said Alan
Brown, CTO at Sterling Software, Dallas.
Meanwhile, the object modeling products that carry on the flag of CASE
usually do so under the Unified Modeling Language (UML) byname. The question
of whether components are objects or objects are components does not even
interest the academics these days. Many experts are predicting that Web
development should mean a boon for modeling tools, a category long maligned
in IT development circles.
"I think in the early days of object technology, the focus was on languages
and methods," said SEI's Northrup. "People had trouble scaling to bigger
systems. As a result, you have UML. Objects are now being viewed in the
context of system building."
"Modeling has had a renaissance of sorts in the development community
due to the increasing need to develop, distribute and integrate different
programs, services and applications across multiple platforms, departments
and organizations," said Cusack at IDC. "Without a consistent, systematic
approach to the development life cycle, or a blueprint if you will, the
entire development effort can come apart literally at the parametric seams."
"We are seeing growth, but any evidence of significant growth is mixed,"
said IBM's Swainson. "Modeling is still used predominately for more complex
projects. There's no other way to build a complex application. IBM is
preparing for further growth by tightening the integration of its tools
and application servers with the Rational Rose modeling tool." In mid-1999
IBM and Rational signed a broad agreement that includes the integration
Rational's steady growth strategy, much of it based on its Rose UML
line, has earned high grades from many industry players. Rational achieved
$411.8 million in revenue for fiscal year ending March 31, with net income
over $59 million. "Why is Rational successful?" asks IBM's Mills, "They
are maniacally focused on serving the buyer -- the user of the tool."
Through its use of UML and the support of the "Three Amigos" (the nickname
for the Rational team that first penned UML), Rational aims to drive sales
in a lucrative life-cycle support tools domain, said Sterling's Brown.
Certainly Rational Software's measured merger plan has, to date, outperformed
its most visible alternative, that being merger and acquisition dervish
Platinum Technology. Platinum's stunning tools buying spree came to an
end this year when Platinum itself was purchased by Computer Associates.
While UML co-inventor Grady Booch, chief scientist at Rational, sees
some bumps ahead in the UML road -- people may be trying to make it do
too many things, he suggests -- UML modeling can bring order to chaotic
projects. The language should prove useful in e-commerce applications
where much today is jerry-rigged with low-level technology and grunt effort.
"Many e-commerce sites use Perl as if it's duct tape," Booch said at OOPSLA
'99 in Denver. "They throw a lot of bodies at [the problem]."
But the Internet gold rush may win over sound method in the short term.
People are taking less time to use UML with a method because "we're on
Internet time," said Chris Kobyrn at OOPSLA. Kobyrn is chief architect,
E.solutions unit at Dallas-based EDS. At issue too, said John Vlissides,
prominent design patterns advocate and IBM researcher, the gap between
design and implementation must be better addressed.
Will the pendulum turn again to tools -- object or otherwise? Perhaps.
Among the hot tools companies has been San Francisco-based Macromedia
Inc., once thought of as a multimedia tools house, but now, with Web awareness
everywhere, perhaps ready to thrive. In recent months, IBM's alphaWorks
and developerWorks Web sites have provided a constant stream of (sometimes
offbeat) tools and utilities. A whole new set of software tool types is
arising from the worldwide effort to create new wireless apps. There is
always a chance some significant tool can bubble up from research and
development labs, just as Java arose from a failed set-top box project.
And just as there has been a (slight) withering away of the operating
system with Java, there may someday be a withering away of the application,
say some. "There should not be an OS," said Smalltalk specialist Dan Ingalls,
researcher, Walt Disney Imagineering. "A good language collects together
the features you need. You can talk to a disk, for example, as an object.
"I hope there would be less of a notion of an application in the future,"
said Ingalls. 'Component,' he conceded, might be a more suitable term
for applications of the future.
When keynotes collide
At the top level of computing, the development battle is sometimes presented
in basic terms. At this year's Las Vegas Comdex keynote, recalling his
early days at California Computing Faires, Microsoft boss Bill Gates recollected
the then-common arguments of small computers vs. big computers. "How do
we stop it being forever the big box world or the PC world? Being software
scalability vs. hardware single points of failure?" asked Gates.
"Even the big box is not delivering what people expect in terms of hard-core
scaling and reliability," said Gates, who off-handedly alluded to Microsoft's
legal wrangles by way of asking if anyone had heard any good lawyer jokes
Arrayed against Gates and Microsoft are a host of enterprise hardware
and software giants. Speaking only for Oracle, but perhaps delivering
a message others might second, was Larry Ellison, head of Oracle, at Fall
Internet World in New York City.
"You want to keep your personal data and your personal applications
on your PC," said Ellison "But shared data and the associated applications
to access that shared data should be on shared servers. And those servers
shouldn't be all over the place.
"You shouldn't have one in every bank branch, you shouldn't have one
in every retail store. You should have as few as possible. The immutable
law of data [is that] every time you take two databases and put them together,
you gain information." While Oracle's tool business is healthy, critics
point out the database is the driver at Redwood Shores, as Ellison's occasional
comments may attest.
The Internet revolution and the reaction to year 2000 warnings have
profoundly changed the way IT organizations develop software. No longer
do business units throw requisitions over a wall and wait for development
groups to fill the orders. Run-of-the-mill backlogs of five years ago
have become intolerable.
Those traditional development backlogs, coupled with the looming year
2000 "crisis" prompted corporations to turn to packaged applications from
suppliers like SAP America Inc., PeopleSoft Corp. and Baan, which promised
to deliver integrated enterprise resource planning systems and allow IT
developers to focus on developing proprietary systems.
"The key change for developers is dealing with a transition from client/server
to Web-centric computing," said Microsoft's Leake. "This has meant that
developers have to learn new computing paradigms like stateless server-side
development, HTML page-based user interfaces and content-centric development.
They also have to deal with new processes required to build Web applications.
Namely, developers have to work much more closely with content editors
and graphic designers than ever before, so having effective team processes
and team-enabled tools has become paramount."
Internet hyperbole aside, the need to connect existing systems continues
to overshadow interest in new system development. Will the coming decade
be a wild ride? Maybe that is the only thing anyone can say for sure.
Plenty of IT professionals will spend the eve of the millennium baby-sitting
30-year-old computer systems, watching for bugs. ADT fearlessly predicts
that 100 years from today, someone somewhere will be baby-sitting a 130-year-old
system. And if you built it, you can start being proud right now.