Is Web 2.0 Business Ready?


One idea of Web 2.0 is that anyone can use new and emerging Internet technologies to reach out to an entire world that includes both everyone in your life and a universe of people you haven't met yet. You can use these technologies to communicate in better, more efficient and rewarding ways.

Facebook, for example, has grabbed the world's attention by combining photos, video, graphics, games and groups with people and their personal information. The result: a cutting-edge mashup that brings new meaning to the theory of six degrees of separation.

Microblogging sites like Twitter.com have joined millions of people into a mashup of realtime personal experiences and observations that have turned it into a modern news ticker of life, culture and, well, news.

While some businesses have created storefronts or virtual billboards on popular networking sites, the rollout of commercial technologies to let business leverage Web 2.0 has been noticeably absent—until recently. Some of the biggest names in technology have begun building bridges between the potential of the social Web and the needs of real business.

The Test Center set out to examine the offerings of several of these technology companies to see how close they are to converting on that potential. Google Inc., for example, provides the beta version of a mashup authoring tool that we tried. IBM Corp. provides the IBM Mashup Center—the sandbox version of an upcoming, commercial application for building mashups for business. Adobe Systems Inc. and Laguna Hills, Calif.-based Magic Software Enterprises Inc. both provide commercial software applications that work toward linking back-end data with Web 2.0 front ends—software that we examined for this report.

This technology is clearly in its earliest stages for business. Some of it is ready for commercial deployment today, some of it shows promise and some provides cause for concern. Mostly, we liked what we saw—technology that holds tremendous possibilities for technologists, solution providers and their customers.

Google Mashup Editor Beta
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google is famous for keeping its products in beta for several years, but the Google Mashup Editor Beta isn't even yet available for general testing. Luck prevailed, though: we applied for access to the beta program and Google let us in within a couple of days. For a beta, GME shows promise; Google has structured this mashup editor with a set of commands that sit as a layer on top of HTML or CSS, for example, and convert combinations of RSS feeds, maps or data sets into JavaScript-based widgets. Starting with a set of tags, GME is designed to be a breeze for programmers of varying degrees of experience. There are drawbacks, though. For example, the Google Mashup Editor tags aren't all encompassing; including Atom feeds in a mashup requires reverting to JavaScript manually. Since Atom is common, that's a drawback Google might want to address. In addition, Google has open-sourced GME—meaning any proprietary solution would likely be a non-starter on this platform, at least for now. In short: Google shows strongly that it wants to become a platform choice and get deeper into the Web 2.0 game, but there's no mistaking GME for anything other than a clunky beta at this point. (Tech Stars: 3, Channel Stars: 3)

Next: IBM Mashup Center

IBM Mashup Center
IBM's top developers and creative minds have been highlighting the Armonk, N.Y.-based company's approach to mashups and Web 2.0 for more than a year. IBM and its Lotus group hang their approach on two major hooks: OpenAjax and its WebSphere server technology. Earlier this summer, the company released the IBM Mashup Center and IBM Lotus Greenhouse as a sandbox for its technology. IBM Mashup Center provides an easy-to-use, GUI-based method to combining maps, RSS feeds, and corporate data like customer lists into browser-based widgets. Creating a mashup here is as simple as dragging and dropping RSS feeds, mapping information, CSV files or other data sets onto a work board; connecting those files to other data files or filters; and then collecting the results in list, map or other graphical format. In the sandbox, IBM is targeting non-technologists—this is both less code-intensive and more business-friendly than Google Mashup Editor. For solution providers with basic knowledge of WebSphere deployment, this provides an easy-to-rollout, server-based approach. A relatively small deployment—with a 20-user license—is priced at about $2,600; larger enterprises which seek a broader deployment can choose a per-CPU option and IBM provides its mashup offering through both software partners as well as selling it direct. (Tech Stars: 5, Channel Stars: 4)

Adobe LiveCycle
Adobe, San Jose, Calif., is clearly banking on investments it has already made in Flex and Flash to build its technological presence as a platform for commercial Web 2.0. With its Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, which began shipping its most recent update on July 17, Adobe includes two, new components to the suite: LiveCycle Component Services ES and LiveCycle PDF Generator 3D ES. It has also enhanced it with Adobe Air, Reader 9 and Flex 3 integration. Reviewing this application in a sandbox environment, the Test Center could see particularly compelling advances by Adobe in PDF integration. What makes LiveCycle hum, though, is the LiveCycle Workbench; this application feature allows for icon-based widgets that allow data types such as credit information and geographic information to be "mashed" together to provide compelling output.

On the back end, Adobe LiveCycle ES can install in a turnkey deployment, which includes JBoss or Weblogic databases; it can also install with more customized deployment, which requires manual installation. While pricing varies depending on the implementation, Adobe ballparks out the license pricing at about $25,000 per CPU. (Tech Stars: 4, Channel Stars: 4)

Next: Magic Software uniPaaS

Magic Software uniPaaS
This application is billed as database agnostic, and has been architected to work with databases ranging from MySQL to SQL Server to DB2 to Oracle. It is based on the .NET framework and ships without database tools; the application and a runtime environment are installed on the back end, while user consoles are client-side. Once installed, the application provides a drop-down box for an administrator to choose from where to import data, such as a DB2 database residing on an AS/400 server.

Much of what uniPaaS offers isn't new to the industry, but for Web 2.0 purposes, uniPaaS provides nifty business capabilities that can add measurable value and efficiency. As a Rich Internet Application (RIA) development tool, uniPaaS provides VARs not sold on Adobe or IBM with a solid alternative for integrating Web 2.0 data with corporate data. For uniPaaS, pricing for development is on a per seat basis at $6,000 per seat; full client deployment for 100 seats is $275 per seat and full server for RIA deployment for 100 users and 10 threads is $286 per user. Price per unit will drop as the number of seats goes up. (Tech Stars: 4, Channel Stars: 4)

Yahoo Pipes
Yahoo Pipes is an Ajax-based, browser-based online mashup application that anyone with a Yahoo account can use for free. For non-commercial purposes, it's also the most fun—but commerce is about a lot more than fun. Yahoo Pipes, which the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company describes as a composition tool, is also one of the older mashup tools available, having been introduced more than 18 months ago. The Pipes site closely resembles the IBM Lotus offering—but Yahoo hosts the service for its subscribers. Yahoo does provide enough functionality so that mashups can be exported into badges or widgets. The online search pioneer continues to refine Pipes as well, recently adding the option to render mashups in PHP in addition to JSON, RSS or KML. For quick, easy deployment, Yahoo Pipes is worth a look. (Tech Stars: 5, Channel Stars: 2)

Bottom Line
As Web integration for business begins to adapt to a Web 2.0 world, look for these offerings to become more robust and provide more opportunities for VARs. These three, proprietary commercial offerings all get a recommendation from the Test Center because they can all meet a variety of business needs for solution providers of different skill sets. The IBM Mashup Center provides a slightly more attractive alternative because of the platform's flexibility and easy-to-deploy approach. It's clear, though, that with much of this technology at the earliest of stages it may well be worth revisiting this segment within a couple of quarters.