So it had to happen one day, I couldn't stay at home all day long and play video games. I have decided to get out of the house and as much as I like taking care of the children, I have to say that when Nathalie said "why don't you get an office", I immediately understood what she was talking about. So I have decided to strut down the street, quite literally down the street, to see my friends over at Appcelerator.
For those of you that know Ben Sabrin, JBoss' employee #1, Ben has also decided to come out of the retirement/professional gambling to work there as head of sales and business development. The company is headed by Jeff Haynie, someone I had got to know from the Atlanta entrepreneur community and who was an early contributor to JBoss in the 2001-2002 timeframe.
Jeff and colleagues have been doing the consulting thing for a while and have realized that the state of the tools to build RIA on top of SOA is still in flux. To speed up their own development they have developed a collection of AJAX widgets that send messages to server side libraries over JSON and map calls back to Java, Ruby, Python, PHP or .NET.
They quickly assembled the composite applications in their consulting jobs. No need to redeploy anything on the server-side during development since this is purely web browser based. As developers they liked the mock-object/message approach and resulting separation of server and client teams.
Their client saw in 6 mo results they initially projected would take a year and a half. Our friends saw goodness out of this and decided to build a product.
They also decided to go open source, full open source. The client widgets and the server libraries, across runtimes, are distributed under the GPL and can be found here.
But this is a crowded space is probably the first thought that crossed your mind. So what sets these guys apart?
1- First of all, 100% Open Source. No one else in the space is 100% OSS. Oh sure, everyone is a little open source, and everyone talks a good talk as a result. Take Adobe. The truth is that you can't get anything done with the OSS bits unless you pay a bunch of money for proprietary products. Bait and switch, or ramp-up, is how this business model is known. It is not 100% open source, by definition of bait and switch. Laszlo, as another example for those familiar with the company and the project, again gains and suffers from the schizophrenia of having 2 different competing products.
2- Client Side Open Standards for RIA: compared to Adobe, where Flex is its own proprietary environment and language, Appcelerator widgets are AJAX, DHTML, speak JSON and support open client web-browser standards.
3- Multiple runtime support for SOA: Appcelerator architecture is message based, multiple back end implementation are supported. JBoss and Spring are supported. If you do Rails, it is supported as well. PHP, .NET and Python are all supported via native libraries. You get the picture, web-services can be written in any language, that is the promise of SOA.
4- Message based methodology: With this architecture there is an "agile" methodology bonus as described above in that client and server are truly separated at development time. You don't need to deploy something on the server each time you test your interface. Where you need to cycle wars in java, you use mock objects in the browser development. No throw-away code. What uses the mock messages with is the code you will use once you switch mock objects to live objects.
And finally, what sets them apart, at least for me, is that they are friends and a group of my favorite peoples. So let's go, I will be helping with as much visibility as I can bring them, mainly PR and this blog. They will need visibility. I am helping with messaging a bit, I am helping with the business model a bit but really all I do is listen to them and what they do and then repeat to them what they told me. This advisory thing is easy when the people in front of you know what they are doing. I will also help Nolan, the co-founder and their technologist focused on their Open Source effort and coach him as he launches his project in OSS. Nolan is a smart and driven technologist, typically the kind that succeeds in Open Source.
Some people are quick to point out that RIA frameworks are a dime a dozen. I view the crowdedness as proof positive there is no clear winner. Now that SOA has been adopted to various degrees, people are looking for ways to quickly build RIA for SOA. The timing is right for another attempt at RIA on SOA. And they are doing it right with portable clients, portable servers, message based methodology and 100% OSS.