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Serena banks on Microsoft workplace challenge

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Serena Software has laid out a roadmap founded on Web 2.0 representing the software industry's latest attempt to chip away at Microsoft's Office development base.

The company has released an early version of its Serena Mashup Composer, previously codenamed Veil, which Serena promised would provide point-and-click creation of business applications and processes using web services.

Founded on a re-worked, Eclipse-based version of Serena's existing TeamTrack software configuration management (SCM) tool, Mashup Composer features an Office 2007 interface (and plug in) and uses WSDL to provide process mapping between SAP, Salesforce.com, PeopleSoft, JDE and Oracle applications. Mashup Composer will be available for free later this year, Serena said.

Serena also said its planned Mashup Server, an on-premises environment for companies to post, host and download mashups, is due in late 2007, while a public-facing Mashup Exchange would become available in early 2008.

Serena, a 37-year-old application lifecycle management (ALM) specialist, has - fresh from its $1.2bn plus VC buyout and turn around - set sail on the prevailing tide of participation and sharing washing through Silicon Valley. Silver Lake Partners, Serena's buyer, is based in the center of Silicon Valley - Palo Alto.

Central to Serena's plans are ordinary line-of-business types who - it believes - will have the time and inclination to build and share mashups. As with many Office and Web 2.0 companies today, the argument is the Facebook and YouTube generation lack the patience for IT to build applications such as HR onramping.

Genuinely helping Serena's strategy is the fact that Oracle and others are opening their software to third parties by wrapping business processes in web services for SOAs.

Like many in the Office 2.0 crowd, though, Serena has conveniently overlooked the dirty secret of Web 2.0: 99 per cent of content for services like YouTube is created by around one percent of users. Most people download and swap.

These metrics will not alter in the even less compelling world of the back office, unless people are actually paid to develop software as part of their day job.

The evidence is compelling: the last time the software industry visited this subject of re-use and sharing was with re-usable software components. That market failed to hit its promised critical mass thanks to cultural, not technical, barriers: the poor quality of components created, unwillingness of users to share components - even within their own organizations, let alone possible rivals on the outside - and reluctance of users to use applications "not invented here."

That risks hurting not just Serena's developer model, but also its revenue stream: Mashup Composer will be free while Serena plans to charge a per-user, per mashup fee for use. Pricing has not been decided, and is expected later this year. Serena did promise certification to guarantee quality of mashups on its market place.

Serena's best hope for at least ensuring applications are actually built for its marketplace will come from targeting commercial ISVs, IT departments and consultants who write software, macros and executables for Office, using Visual Basic and Visio. People who get paid to build software.

René Bonvanie, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, partner programs and online services, was recently snatched from Salesfoce.com where he was leading the AppExchange marketplace. Given Bonvanie's brief stint, it seems reasonable to conclude the partner-based approach is really Serena's game plan.

In conversation with The Register, Bonvanie claimed 30 "charter partners", although none were named during Monday's announcements. Also claimed were 50 beta customers from a pre-existing customer list of 15,000 organizations.

Serena will need to do a better job, though, of unseating Microsoft than others have in the past. Top-of-mind is BEA Systems, who boldly set out a few years back to convert Visual Basic developers disgruntled with Microsoft into Java web services programmers using the drag-and-drop WebLogic Workshop suite.

According to Bonvanie, things will be different this time. "We are not going after the platform from a skills perspective, it's not [about] programmers", Bonvanie said. "The whole idea is not to displace VB. The idea is we give the tool to business users who can solve sets of business problems."®

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