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What's it all about, ALF

Serena is sponsoring a new Eclipse project called ALF

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Parker told me a story illustrating the need for process in application delivery. Apparently, the rear windshield specification for a certain German car included the ability to withstand impacts well over 120 km/hour. An obvious mistake, thought the commendably thorough engineers, even posh German cars can't travel that fast in reverse, and reduced it to something more reasonable. U

nfortunately, the cars were to be shipped to the South of France at high speed by rail, packed on open tracks and facing backwards, and they all arrived with the rear windshields shattered. A bit of process might have encouraged the engineers to investigate that specification further before making an arbitrary correction.

According to Parker, ALF won't be "high ceremony". It will provide a low-barrier to entry and minimize the need for customising a universal meta-model before participants can get started. Nevertheless, the experience of the OMG with MDA and the Meta-object Facility (MOF) seems to show that building on a properly thought-out meta-model brings long-term benefits (pragmatic initiatives fit together better) and I was pleased to note that Serena is apparently looking at the theoretical underpinnings of ALF too, by sponsoring academic research.

The ALF project is important, and not only because application lifecycle management is an important aspect of delivering the IT Governance companies are expected to have today as part of Corporate Governance generally; and is too important to entirely trust to vendors. Eclipse is successful but it is now expanding its scope beyond the IDE and a community of pure developers – will the Eclipse organisation cope with the change? ALF is, perhaps, a test case.

And can Serena's culture cope with managing an open source community (and, indeed, with its recent take-over by a benevolent VC, which is taking it back to private ownership)? I am optimistic that all will go well and that we're seeing the emergence of a truly independent framework around which to build IT governance – but only time will tell.

Nevertheless, although the competing Microsoft application lifecycle environment is at last getting decent tools and an underlying model, I can't really see the industry accepting Microsoft's platform in the same way that it might accept Eclipse as "an independent open eco-system [built] around royalty-free technology and a universal platform for tools integration" for more than just coding.®

David Norfolk is the author of IT Governance, published by Thorogood. More details here.

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