IBM's Community Source Could Redefine RUP

BetaNews posted an interview today with Doug Heintzman, VP of Strategy and Technology for IBM's Software Group; the focus of the article was on IBM's new Community Source initiative, a hybrid open/closed source development strategy.

Now, blending open and closed source isn't exactly new or news. The development strategies of IBM, Novell, RedHat, Sun, Apple, Oracle, BEA and a host of other major software outfits have all shifted from completely closed to a mix of open/closed over the last several years.

The idea behind IBM's approach is to incorporate some of the techniques of open source into their internal more traditional top-down methodology. However, there is a striking statement in the opening paragraph of Mr. Heintzman's seemingly innocuous corporate-message-laden interview: "...we have decided to move to a new development methodology."

That's right - IBM, the company that owns Rational and that stalwart of the corporate IT development shop, the Rational Unified Process - has decided to move to a new development methodology.

Continuing the dissection, another quote from Mr. Heintzman: "Increasingly our products are assembled from components instead of architected from the top down." The most prevalent example of this approach is the open source Eclipse project, the framework for which is now being used in IBM products such as Lotus Notes and Rational Application Developer, which combines the previously separate WebSphere IDE and Rational modeling and testing tools into one application.

Heintzman goes on to describe another area where IBM's Community Source initiative borrows from open source: "...there's also a tremendous amount of potential innovation that is locked up in the heads of the front line programmers and we try to liberate that creativity and the innovative potential of all of those people."

Though the concept of developer-driven software projects is a central tenet of the open source community, another example of a group which takes this approach immediately comes to mind - one of IBM's key up-and-coming competitors - Google. A number of key popular Google features have started as the brainchild of one of their developers. From IBM's perspective, if they allow their own developers to take the lead in launching projects internally, the chances of creating a Google-killer increases. Of course, later on in the article Heintzman basically shoots this idea in the foot, by acknowledging that IBM doesn't necessarily allow developers to work on projects that they aren't specifically assigned to, as Google does.

Still, there is a stark contrast between the rigorous business-driven approach espoused by Rational and the concept of developer-driven projects. While it remains to be seen if IBM's internal shift will have any impact on the way they approach communicating the Rational Unified Process to customers, it is interesting to see that lighter weight methodologies like Agile and XP which are readily used in open source development could potentially have ramifications for the more stringent RUP.