Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/23/ajax_ruby_alm/

Pundits rate Ajax, evaluate ALM incumbents

Works in progress

By Gavin Clarke

Posted in Developer, 23rd March 2007 09:52 GMT

Comment BEA Systems' former chief technology officer Scott Dietzen caused a minor stir at Evans Data Corp's (EDC) recent developer conference. Dietzen founded open source messaging and collaboration start up Zimbra after leaving BEA. Importantly for us, Zimbra epitomizes Web 2.0 because it utilizes AJAX and mashups.

So it was that Dietzen caused some EDC delegates to splurt out their coffee during one panel discussion on Web 2.0, when he urged Silicon Valley companies to use less - not more - AJAX, for the sakes of both end users and developers building new systems.

"Use the tools for AJAX - pop up, drag and drop and mashups - where they really improve the user experience," Dietzen said, noting that popups and mouse overs get in his face. "AJAX is hard and adds development and maintenance costs to the site. You need to adopt it where it adds value to the site."

Which led one of Scott's fellow panelist to remark: "I thought you were an AJAX company."

Dietzen's comments appear well timed, as I'm feeling the breaks of a well-timed reality check slowly being applied to the Web 2.0 roller coaster.

Make no mistake, Web 2.0 remains the Valley's buzzword du jour and young developers continue to jump on Rails and to build AJAX frameworks. Also, judging by recent events, vendors clearly see loads of growth potential left in Web 2.0: Telelogic, whose application lifecycle management (ALM) tools are more commonly associated with "real men" developers building missile guidance systems than web apps, announced DOORS Fastrack. Teleogic has revised its requirements gathering and workflow software to help web developers easily capture and consolidate end-user's requirements and to work through them.

A Register online panel of application development vendors attending SD West in Santa Clara this week, found while AJAX is one of the strongest and most important features to have emerged from the Web 2.0 buzz machine (Ruby was the other) - this umbrella technology needs more work before it hits its full potential. Attending the panel debating Web 2.0's impact on application development were Darren Rush, chief executive and founder of open source code search engine Koders, Gwyn Fisher CTO of static analysis specialist Klocwork, and Ryan Martens, founder of Agile project management vendor Rally Software.

Rush called AJAX a big innovation and a possible stepping stone to big improvements down the track "potentially even changes to http - to better support concurrent web applications and higher-scale features." Some see cometd, an http event routing bus, as one possible future technology direction.

AJAX and Rails are helping developers shave time off projects because programmers can "code by example" according to Martens. "Like HTML, the code is all there to see, analyze and modify to your requirements. Server-side code is fundamentally less visible so harder to use as a learning tool."

AJAX, though, is at phase 1.0 thanks to the lack of industry standards and a growing proliferation of frameworks, which are all designed to make life simpler but are probably helping fragment the landscape. "So many AJAX frameworks is a good thing right now - but very soon, developers are going to be looking for more standards and interoperability between AJAX libraries. It will probably take some time for that aspect of Web 2.0 development to materialize," Rush said.

Over to Fisher: "AJAX without great developer support tools is [at its] best and worst. Best, because you can all of a sudden do all these amazingly cool things in browsers. Worst, because without tools to help you, you're stuck in Venkman trying to work out what the hell just happened to your page."

De-facto standardization is starting, around the cooler and more interesting frameworks like Prototype and script.aculo.us, but with more than 160 frameworks to chose from and those numbers increasing, there's a long way go before we hit real consolidation. And with so many frameworks, the question for platforms like Eclipse and for vendors such as IBM/Rational and Microsoft with Visual Studio becomes: do you support all frameworks, and risk creating a confused IDE, or just a select the most popular frameworks and risk excluding large sections of the developer community.

There's another challenge for incumbents like IBM/Rational, Microsoft and even diddy CodeGear - Borland Software's subsidiary. Not only must they keep up with trends - Microsoft scored highly for its work in putting Ruby on .NET and for hiring leading developers such as RubyCLR bridge creator John Lam - but they must also update their approach on ALM to account for more fluid processes.

IBM/Rational and Borland have spend at least five years building ALM suites architected around processes and lengthy project times. Microsoft was a latecomer, jumping in with Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS) in November 2005. The hallmarks of AJAX and Web 2.0 development, though, are agility - some might even say RADishness. That means shorter project time spans, more hacking of code, and shorter process cycles. "For Web 2.0 and SOA developers that means changing process and collaboration techniques to make larger teams move like a symphony of small teams," Martens said.

According to Martens, today's ALM providers have "major investments" in "version 1.0 team tools" that need to change. He defined "1.0" tools as bug trackers, requirements management, and workflow tools that solidified a process. "Walls between roles and teams that created lots of work in process inventory to manage," Martens said.

At the end of the day, though, it seems flexible processes will be useful for web-based applications while our panel expressed a belief in the continued need for heavy-weight process for mission-critical work. "I'd prefer they [guys developing missiles]... have some heavy process behind them," Rush concluded.®