Objects, sunspots and sleeping with the giant

Sun president Jonathan Schwartz sure knows how to keep us all in suspense. Although he announced in the beginning of June the company’s plans to ‘open-source’ Solaris he has yet to provide any indication of when developers might get a look inside the high-level operating system. Nor is he telling anyone how the company plans to organize licensing arrangements once the code is opened to an eager public.

In fact being closed about pending openness is becoming quite the fashion at the Sun stables, with hints that the inner workings of Java are also set to see the light. When? They won’t say, but watch this space.

In the mean time, Australian developers have enough on their plate with Microsoft’s upcoming TechEd set to take place at the National Convention and Exhibition Centre in Canberra from August 3 to August 6. If past years are anything to go by this will be a chance to get down and dirty with the world’s most widely used software vendor. Officially there are more than 100 education sessions planned, covering all aspects of Windows infrastructure, as well as including labs and product evaluation, and insight into mobile devices, and security. However, the truly committed developers out there will remember the Jolt-fuelled all-night code-offs of past TechEds, and be looking forward to a chance to match talent and mingle with like-minded techies.

Speaking of mingling and Microsoft, it would seem that Gate’s empire has found some friends in unlikely places, with database giants Oracle and SAP both announcing closer ties with the software juggernaut.

TechEd attendees will be pleased to note that their skills may become more saleable as Oracle is set to become a Microsoft Visual Studio partner. This will make it easier to get data contained in Oracle databases through Window’s based applications. While such applications are not uncommon, the new partnership is set to streamline the development process.

SAP on the other hand has announced closer integration between Microsoft’s .Net development tools and SAP’s NetWeaver. Like the Oracle deal, this will make it easier to develop Windows-based tools that tie into SAP applications, and even enable Microsoft tools to be used to develop extensions for SAP’s software. Although the companies have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, this new phase is firmly rooted in Web Services technology on which the tighter integrations will be based.

Microsoft is touting the deal as great fillip for the profile of Web services, which have yet to make their presence felt in mainstream business applications. Central to their broader adoption however, is an approach to development that provides a framework for services and code to be reused in a variety of ways.

This philosophy of use and reuse is not new. In fact according to Dr Julian Edwards, chief operating officer at software development house Object Consulting, it has been around for the last three decades. In fact, he characterises Web services, and SOAs (service oriented architectures) as the ultimate goal of object-oriented languages.

“It is great to hear people like Gartner talking about SOAs,” Edwards says. “We finally have a word to describe what we’ve been doing all these years.”

With a staff of 120 spread across its Melbourne and Sydney offices, and a training division gaining ground, Object Consulting, since its inception 15 years ago, has been evangelizing the benefits of software architectures which enable code to be reused. However, it has only been in the last 18 months that a recognizable industry term has arisen to describe the company’s approach.

According to Edwards, the company is on the cusp of a major change in the software development landscape. By taking the promise of object-oriented programming to its fullest potential, Object Consulting has managed to cut the time it dedicates to each function point to half of the 16-hour industry average.

“The key to our approach is to reuse components so the whole development process becomes more like an assembly line rather than the creation of handcrafted goods,” Edwards says. “Our view is that custom software projects can be broken into small increments without leaving an integration quagmire at the end of the development line.”

Edwards describes the current corporate view of software development as somewhat immature, given the tendency for companies to focus on build costs rather than the more long-term costs of applications management and upgrades.

“We are at the stage where companies are looking to outsource development in order to reduce costs, when the idea would be to take more time at the planning stage and work smarter,” he says. “The key to keeping software costs down is not putting out a tender and awarding it to whoever will do the cheapest build, rather it is based on getting the requirements right initially and building incrementally.”

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