IBM Touts Jazzy New Development Strategy

Jazz is IBM's long-gestating platform for collaborative software development, a kind of middleware layer for linking development assets. Originally a project of IBM Research, Jazz migrated to the Rational team last year for productization, picking up technology and inspiration from IBM's Lotus collaboration applications line along the way. But Jazz is more than a product line: It encompasses an experimental new approach to IBM's commercial software development and a fledgling community,, that IBM hopes will evolve into a broader industry effort.

At its Rational Software Developer conference last week, IBM announced its first Jazz-influenced product, IBM Rational Team Concert, an Eclipse-based collaborative development portal now in beta. Team Concert works to automate communications and tracking tasks within software teams following agile development practices, which emphasize flexible, iterative development.

Practicing what it preaches (and sells), IBM is using its evolving Jazz framework internally to build Team Concert. It's also taking the unusual step of developing the software fairly publicly, modeling its process after that typically used for open-source products. On, IBM will post code drops and road maps, publicly track bugs and feature requests, and encourage feedback from community participants about its development work and priorities.

What IBM won't do is open its licensing. While the code will be available to participants, Rational Team Concert will remain proprietary software. Customers won't be able to redistribute or rework the code, and production use will require purchasing licenses from IBM.

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"Think of this as the best aspects of open source, such as transparency, brought to commercial development," Rational CTO Martin Nally said during a presentation at the show. "Open commercial development is an attempt by us to provide an environment where we can have the participation of customers and partners."

IBM isn't a company with qualms about open-sourcing its technology. Its employees actively contribute to a number of open-source projects, and its direct open-source contributions include the core technology behind the popular Eclipse IDE and development tooling platform. Jazz's "open commercial" process is IBM's attempt to find a new middle ground, capitalizing on the strengths of the open-source community development model without sacrificing the financial advantages of retaining ownership of its software products.

Partners are intrigued by both the Jazz development model and technology -- but say it's too early to forecast how well either will turn out.

NEXT : Partners on their Jazz adoption plans"Today we use Rational ClearCase and BuildForge. As Jazz gets rolled out, we'll look at that as well," said Dan Potter, vice president of marketing for WebLayers, a Cambridge, Mass., SOA (services-oriented architecture) governance software maker that both partners with IBM and uses its tools for internal development. "The vision for Jazz is awesome. We like the idea of having a single, unified view that provides collaboration, transparency and governance from within an Eclipse IDE."

Black Duck Software CEO Doug Levin foresees technology like Jazz helping enterprises adjust to the idea of diversified, community-driven development by making collaboration among disparate developers easier.

"We're very excited about Jazz. We think that a major player like IBM offering this type of functionality can help further drive the adoption of open-source in the enterprise," said Levin, whose Waltham, Mass., company develops open-source licensing compliance software. "It so closely parallels what we're seeing as the overall trend in software development toward more distributed development."

IBM isn't the only development-tools maker taking note of that trend. Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System (VSTS), launched in late 2005, is a set of role-based development tools aimed at simplifying collaborative development. IBM says Jazz takes a higher-order approach to collaboration development architecture than VSTS offers. Potential users are waiting to do some comparative tire-kicking to find out.

"I love the Jazz vision. It's how we work; it's very lean and dynamic," said Eric Gatchalian, development manager for logistics technology creator Dematic in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dematic's various development teams each have their own tools and methodologies, with some using Rational software and others relying on Visual Studio for .Net development. Gatchalian said he's interested in comparing the collaborative tools offered in Rational Team Concert and VSTS, and in exploring how Jazz can aid his team's development work.

Others in IBM's ecosystem are still waiting to be convinced. Jazz remains in its infancy, and some partners say they're not going to devote much attention to Jazz until it's proved itself worthy.

"It's not high on our radar," said Jim Chaffee, an account executive with Rational partner Cognence, a Denver-based software development process consultancy. "The background of what they're doing is right-on; fundamentally, it's the right thing to be doing. But most of us with big backgrounds in development know you never go with a dot-zero release of anything. You let it mature."

Rational's executives say they're fine with that wait-and-see attitude. Jazz is led by several of the same engineers that spearheaded Eclipse, and it shares some of that project's focus on community-building and leading a broader industry conversation around a tricky development challenge, but Jazz's leaders are carefully containing Jazz hype and expectations.

Right now, it's too early to say if Jazz will evolve into an Eclipse-like coalition that sparks broad changes in the software development tooling landscape, Rational General Manager Danny Sabbah said.

"We have to see whether there's acceptance and momentum behind it," Sabbah said. "We have to see if we got it sort-of right. I say 'sort-of right' because we'll never get it exactly right right away, but let's see if we're at least in the ballpark."