Orlando in June was more or less what you’d expect: muggy, hot, and alternating between bright sunshine and severe thunderstorms. The Rational Conference, however, was less predictable. Partially because Rational is evolving in two distinct directions simultaneously, but also because the show was a weird amalgam of old school enterprise tech and new school consumer software. Let’s explore the show in more detail with some Q&A.
Q: First off, anything to disclose?
A: Yes indeed. IBM is a RedMonk customer, and comped hotel expenses for this conference.
Q: What would you say the theme of the show was, in the two days you were there?
A: There was so much going on, what with Monday’s acquisitions and more details on Jazz – both the product and the product’s development process – and a few other releases that it’s difficult to sum up easily. But I think what’s interesting to me is how Rational is at once trying to go broad and deep.
Q: How do you mean that?
A: Well, consider the history of Rational for just a moment. What has Rational’s role been over the years? It’s helped managed complexity, in everything from process to tooling. A good fit, certainly, with IBM’s own services and software arms, which are typically not aimed at mundane software development tasks. To this end, Rational’s offerings have typically had the most appeal to enterprises or vendors with significantly challenging development challenges on their hands. Put differently, while there may have been no job too big for the folks for Rational, there were plenty that were too small.
The acquisitions of Telelogic and Watchfire, which are aimed at the embedded systems and security opportunities respectively, further Rational’s capabilities in important but specialized arenas.
Contrast that with Jazz, which while still short on a lot of specifics is clearly aimed at a far more horizontal application development paradigm: collaborative development. If Rational has traditionally been about vertical opportunities, Jazz seems to be aimed at a far more widespread use case.
Q: What do you think of that use case?
A: I think it’s hugely important and relevant. The accelerating adoption of decentralized source code management tools like bzr, git, and Mercurial by projects like Ubuntu, the Linux kernel, and Mozilla/OpenSolaris respectively is confirmation that the demand for tools that allow geographically disparate teams to work more effectively together is high. Even if, strangely, most of the conference attendees I spoke to hadn’t heard of this trend.
Q: Apart from Jazz, what were the “new school” elements to the show?
A: Second Life, most obviously. The virtual world, embraced by some and lamented by others, was deeply embedded in the conference. Tuesday’s keynote saw appearances by both Grady Booch and Scott Hebner’s avatars, with the requisite video demonstrations and virtual world gags. While I’m not a big fan of some of the entertainers that are typically imported for these sorts of things – Mitch Fatel and a husband/wife magic team this year – the Second Life components to the presentation were no more distracting. But more on IBM and its virtual worlds interests in a later post.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you heard at the show?
A: Unquestionably the detailed description of the development process that IBM is calling “Open Commercial Development.”
Q: Is that the open source method that’s been discussed in the media?
A: It is not, in fact, open source, and I actually urged IBM not to try and connect the two. It borrows heavily from open source, without question. Code drops, milestones, bugs, source code and more will be available for free on the web, but a.) the license prohibits the deployment of code into production scenarios and b.) the committers will all be from IBM. I think it’s more accurate to characterize this as “transparent” development, and I have concerns about the open source aspects.
Q: Concerns about the openness, the availability of the code and so on?
A: No, I actually fielded precisely that question from an IBMer, and my answer was: that would be the least of my worries. IBM, I suspect, will discover the risk/reward ratio to developing in this fashion is solidly tilted in favor of the reward. No, I’m more worried that open source developers will hear the words “open source,” and show up looking for an open source project only to find software that – while available – carries significant restrictions on its deployment and usage. My concerns are therefore about setting the appropriate expectations, because nuanced messages have a way of getting lost.
Q: What project is this development process being applied to?
A: So far, just the Jazz project. Indeed, many of the conference attendees were blurring the lines between the project itself and the means by which it was being developed.
Q: Do you think that this Open Commercial Development represents an ideal hybrid of open source and commercial development philosophies?
A: It all depends on your expectations. If the idea is that some of the benefits of open source – be they community QA and bug reporting, feature suggestions, and so on – will be realized via this model, then yes. If the intent, however, is to build a vibrant, open source style community, a la Eclipse, then the answer is no, it isn’t.
Q: Why is that? You don’t think that despite the availability of source code, bug reports and so on that Jazz can build a community?
A: A community? Of course it can. Just not an Eclipse-style community. Consider the history of Eclipse itself. While it was a solid, compelling project while still controlled by IBM – and because someone will bring it up, for the the record, there are those who still believe it is – my opinion is that the point at which it really crossed the chasm in terms of adoption and momentum was when IBM set it free. Like many others with experience in open source projects, I think it’s very difficult for vendor controlled projects to build the same sorts of communities that independent projects can. It’s not impossible, as examples like MySQL prove, but they’re very much the exception to the rule.
Q: How does Jazz relate to IBM’s efforts with Eclipse?
A: Like the rest of the Rational portfolio, Jazz builds on Eclipse. But there has been concern expressed from some members of the Eclipse community that a decision by IBM to open source some portion of Jazz outside the auspices of the Eclipse project could result in a fragmentation of effort. As far as I’m aware, however, no decisions have yet been made about open sourcing Jazz components, let alone where tat might occur.
Q: Anything else you’d like to mention about the show?
A: Lots, but I have to pack for an early flight tomorrow. Drop any questions you’d like answered in as a comment and I’ll answer them if I can.