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A Rose By Any Other Name

A Rose By Any Other Name

What's in a name? A rose by any other name will still smell as sweet. Well, perhaps in the world of horticulture, but in the information technology arena, I'm not sure that aphorism applies. I'm sure you all realize that I'm referring to the recent purchase of Rational Software by IBM for approximately $2.2 billion dollars. This acquisition leaves me wondering what Rose will smell like a year from now.

Rational as a company helped define an interesting movement and market - that of development by model. Its founders defined various modeling methodologies into UML and codified its usage. But more than just modeling, Rational was the leader in defining an independent movement towards improved quality and process. And increasingly, RUP, Rational's Unified Process, has become a standard for describing, modeling, and running projects. There are several reasons why that was successful, including the quality of the process and the close ties to the software that Rational produced to implement it. But one big reason that Rational was successful was its independence. At the end of the day, no one was suspicious that RUP aligned more with a particular company, or with a specific set of software. And while it always seemed to me that Rational was farther along on Java, it certainly paid close attention to Microsoft and most recently to the .NET platform.

But that's changed now. I'm sure that the purchase makes good financial sense for IBM, and was a benefit to Rational stockholders. From the perspective of implementers, the sense is less clear. For example, does IBM Global Services now use RUP as its project management methodology? If it does, what does that mean for clients who don't want to use it? If it doesn't, what kind of message does that send as a company who won't use its own products? Either way, there's some ambiguity there. Most consulting companies have their own process methodologies. I'm sure we'll hear that IBM's methodology was in line with RUP, or that RUP is complimentary or some such spin, but the bottom line is Rational is going from a company that believed its religion to a company that doesn't always eat its own dogfood. And the good will of the community that drove an independent standard (UML) may not extend to a company that will compete in hardware, software, and services.

Similarly, on the software side it seems a mixed bag. What happens if IBM decides that support for BEA's WebLogic Server is a second-tier concern? Or that an emphasis on Java, in which it has a significant market share and presence, is more important than keeping close synchronization with Microsoft's .NET platform? There's a very real possibility that this useful toolset could become marginalized and proprietized out of the mainstream use it receives today.

Of course, Rational is more than just one product, and some of the products are truly agnostic when it comes to technology, so you can't just simplify it and say one thing or another, which also confuses the issue. But to most folks, Rational means modeling, and the question of how agnostic it can be now has to be answered.

What makes this even more interesting is the recent purchase of Rational's main modeling rival, Togethersoft, by Borland. Over the past few years Borland has dusted itself off, put together a solid marketing program, and won developers with its feature set and concentration on essentials for developers. And it does stand alone as a company that works with, but isn't tied to, either .NET or J2EE. But it's still a software company, albeit now one with a modeling tool, and not a modeling company. It worries me that there are no companies left who are concentrating on modeling and methodology as their sole concerns. Perhaps it's time to turn the methodology question, and the UML, over to an independent standards body. Problem is, methodology is more of a religion than a science. It takes understanding, evangelism, and buy-in in order to be successful. Legislating a standard won't do it - we need the evangelists, but they've been co-opted.

Let me know if the Rose starts to smell a little different.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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