Development Darlings Step Into The Spotlight

*Editor's Note: This is the final installment of our 10-part 5 Hot-Button Issues series, in which we spotlight five things solution providers should keep an eye on over the coming year in various IT and channel categories.

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Open-sourcing is entrenched, and few would argue any longer that the Web is a core part of the future of software delivery.

Still, the new hot-button issues today in application development revolve around the same theme: up-and-coming platforms, tools and technologies. The following five topics are generating a bunch of chatter among developers and software companies these days.

1. Web 2.0 Everywhere
"Web 2.0" mania has Silicon Valley enthusing about innovative development tools and approaches -- even as the term's vagueness leaves everyone free to bend the buzzword to fit their own pet projects. Mashups fusing functionality from stand-alone applications are making the long-heralded advantages of standards-based Web services a tangible reality.

Meanwhile, the profusion of freely available open-source bits of infrastructure software like the increasingly robust MySQL database, syndication tools such as RSS, flexible scripting languages, and open APIs have sparked a boom in application creation.

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So far, the impact is most visible among consumer-focused hobby applications like photo site Flickr and tagging service But as ever-more-powerful tools enable the idea that if you can dream it, you can build it, the effects of new approaches to application development will ripple beyond the Web 2.0 waters.

2. Rise Of Ruby On Rails and AJAX
New application development approaches require new tools. Developers are flocking to Ruby on Rails, an open-source framework tailored for designing Web applications. Older scripting languages like PHP are more widely used for Web development, but the Ruby language in conjunction with the two-year-old Rails framework (RoR to enthusiasts) is winning raves for its simplicity.

The other new development darling is AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), the term coined last year to describe the bundle of techniques and technologies that let applications like Google Maps mimic the rich-client functionality of desktop software. The approach resonated. AJAX has spread like wildfire as developers use it to create smoother, faster and more elegant Web applications. A new industry consortium, Open AJAX, was formed in February to align dozens of vendors' AJAX tool projects.

3. Eclipse Dominates Among Java IDEs
Launched just four years ago, Eclipse has steamrolled much of its competition. It's now the most-used Java IDE, blowing past established rivals like Borland Software's Delphi and Sun Microsystems' NetBeans.

Eclipse's momentum is so strong that competitors are throwing themselves beneath the bandwagon's wheels. Borland, BEA Systems and Adobe Systems have all scrapped proprietary technology and rebuilt their development tools around Eclipse. Conscious of its new position at center stage, the Eclipse Foundation is working to create a clockwork update schedule so that partners relying on Eclipse technology can align their own development plans. In June it shipped Callisto, the first in a planned annual series of synchronized releases of updates for a number of integrated Eclipse projects.

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4. Sun's Open-Source Java Plans
The question "When will you open-source Java?" has plagued Sun for years. Newly promoted CEO Jonathan Schwartz opened JavaOne this year by committing to finally make it so. Now questions focus on how Sun will follow through on that commitment.

Significant swaths of Java source code are already publicly available. The bigger stumbling block for would-be Java innovators is licensing. Outside developers frequently complain that Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun exerts too much legal control over the Java intellectual property it owns. Java's governing body, the Java Community Process, also draws fire from participants who view it as too slow and bureaucratic.

Sun executives say they're working on plans for licensing and governing a fully open-sourced Java stack, but few new details have emerged since JavaOne.

5. The Looming Vista Wave
Updates of Microsoft's most visible applications -- Windows, Office and Internet Explorer -- are all queued up for coordinated release when Vista, the next-gen Windows operating system, is finally ready.

Five years' work has gone into the software updates, and Microsoft executives including CEO Steve Ballmer call the Vista wave the biggest product overhaul in the company's history. For months headlines have focused on Vista's delays. The more lasting issue will be how well the applications are received when they ship, whether that's in January (as Microsoft claims) or later in 2007 (as many analysts predict).

Vista is built around the new .Net 3.0 framework (formerly WinFX). Its features, including the Windows Presentation Framework (code-named Avalon), significantly advance the tools programmers have to work with in building Windows applications. But until Vista is in widespread use, developers will need to either postpone Vista-dependent projects or split their efforts between supporting Microsoft's new and old operating systems.

Conscious of the uptake lag its last-shipping Vista will face, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., recently released a preview version of .Net 3.0 adapted to run on Windows XP.