IBM's Rational to Update Progress at Conference

UPDATE: The application tools division will announce sweeping support for the Eclipse platform and hash out its new attack strategy under the aegis of IBM.

IBM next week will celebrate the six-month anniversary of its $2.1 billion purchase of applications tools maker Rational Software with a user conference geared to update software developers on its progress since joining Big Blue.

The Rational User Conference 2003 in Orlando, Fla. will serve as the launching pad for more refined strategic direction on the part of Rational, Eric Schurr, vice president of marketing for Rational products at IBM, told in a recent interview.

This includes the submission of a specification for software code and design reuse as well as complete support for the open Eclipse platform.

In one sense, Rational has taken on many of the development characteristics IBM has become known for in the last few years, said Schurr, who joined Rational in 1996 when it bought Software Quality Assurance (SQA). While most software acquisitions are fraught with trouble and integration issues, Schurr said IBM's ability to integrate quickly and precisely has made the turning of Rational into an IBM software division as seamless as can be.

This, in many ways, is what analysts and customers have been wanting to hear. When the deal was first announced last December there were myriad concerns that Rational might be difficult to fit in the IBM frame.

There were also many concerns about whether Rational would continue to support Microsoft development environments, such as Visual Studio .NET, so staunchly, because of the intense competition between the maker of all things Windows and Big Blue. Not so, said Schurr. Support for Microsoft products remains vitally important to serve the customers, he said.

"In fact, Rational products are more of a complement to Visual Studio than they are to Eclipse," he said. "But in the end, we don't necessarily have to support the Microsoft development environments, but the Windows deployment environments, such as SQL, Exchange or Office."

Schurr said Rational General Manager Mike Devlin will unveil four major initiatives involving the division's strategic direction. These include "best practices," which is essentially an extension of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) for developing software that is cohesive.

Schurr, who referred to RUP as a sort of de facto standard in software development, said Rational will continue to customize software for every type of business in keeping with heterogeneous business environments while offering a greater amount of content, as well as the ability to add, delete or modify content.

The second piece, model-driven development details the pace of standard product modeling. Fusing the "best practice initiative" with IBM's WebSphere Studio, Schurr said Rational is seeking to reduce the reliance of hand-coding -- something most development teams have been trying to do in favor of automating more code.

With tools such as Rational's XDE, Rapid Developer and WebSphere Studio, Rational hopes to allow people to build software by reusing assets because customers, Schurr said "don't want to write from scratch."

To that end, Schurr said Rational is submitting a Reusable Access Specification (RAS) to the Object Management Group (OMG) standards organization for its approval. Schurr no such spec, which applies to reusable code and design models, has ever come to fruition.

Third is "quality-by-design," which, as it implies, involves improving the quality of software not after the formal testing process is complete, but before it even reaches that stage. Simply, Schurr said Rational is looking to improve software from "from A-Z," or the entire application lifecycle management.

Lastly, Rational will unveil "enterprise change management," which provides descriptors for a foundation to help software management teams manage their code. Schurr said there are so many abstracts that go into application development that enterprises need a way to corral them.

"These have to be integrated, coordinated and merged into a final result," Schurr said. "Sometimes, it involves fitting square pegs in round holes that don't match."

Lastly, Schurr confirmed that Rational is not only committed to Eclipse, as a founding member, but will migrate all of its disparate products to Eclipse over the next couple of years to ensure a far more integrated, smoother operating software development platform.

Schurr also said Rational is not worried about momentum by such major competitors as Borland. While Borland has updated its product almost monthly, Schurr said Rational has been keeping pace.

However, it announces product upgrades in synchronized fashion, or all at once, as opposed to a piecemeal approach, which Schurr said is less effective.

"We conducted pre-testing of our components before announcing any finished products and made major announcements this past May," he said. "You can expect additional announcements within a year."

Thomas Murphy, a senior program director at research firm Meta Group, said Rational's progress has met his research group's expectations but is better in places than expected.

"Things are pulling together rapidly around Eclipse," Murphy told "Standardization of the modeling base on EMF is started, so in many ways yes, basically [Rational] is keeping pace with Borland. Still a bit wishy washy on platform support, which is mainly a messaging issue not a tools issue because they are supporting .NET/J2EE and several J2EE platforms."

Murphy also said Rational seems to be getting the "on demand" message in place from a tools perspective, which is vital to IBM's overarching strategy to pipe computing resources to customers at their beck and call.

"I think going forward it will continue to be hard for them to meet the "every six months" schedule and be meaningful," Murphy said. "They also need to figure out how to hang on to RUP with SIs but there really isn't an alternative at this point so until Borland or someone else can come out with a strong competitive offering they will do okay."

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