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Tool maps software schedule

Centerline Software's Acqua v3 is an attempt to shed light on the process of building and delivering software.

CenterLine Software is attempting to shed light on the process of building and delivering software.

The company will tomorrow announce Acqua v3, a new Web-centric release of CenterLine's application delivery management system. The goal of the system is to give software developers, their managers, and even nontechnical people a handle on a project's status, so they can better predict when software will be delivered.

"The problem we're trying to solve is simple but important," CenterLine president and CEO Marco Emrich said. "We're trying to allow developers, testers, managers, CEOs, CFOs, and others to share knowledge and improve communication to make sure they properly deliver the application they are about to develop."

That's a tall order, analysts said, since no software company has yet devised a system like Acqua. Most companies rely on a combination of project management software, email, verbal communication, bulletin boards, and yellow stickies to manage a software project from concept to completion.

Acqua includes pieces of software called data collectors that link up to client-based development tools, such as Visual Basic and popular Java and C++ compilers; and to application testing and quality measurement tools. The data collectors siphon information up to an application server and database which track each segment of the development process, from original specifications through bug tracking and final delivery.

All information is accessible via a Web browser which taps into a Web server that's part of the application server. The Web site offers overall project information, status reports, schedules, and will even issue alerts if a particular area of a project is behind schedule.

One design goal for Acqua was to make the information available--and clear to--the business people behind software development, such as project managers or even the CEO of a company that's implementing a new human resources application, for instance. To make information more palatable, Acqua makes data on project status available to users in Microsoft Word and Project formats.

Analysts said Acqua is the first of what could be several products intended to address the same, growing problem. "There's a fractured environment out there right now [in the application development area]," Melinda Ballou, an analyst with the Meta Group, said. "People want a vendor-neutral way to manage the process of developing software across many different products from different vendors. Acqua is the first stage in that process and it's a very promising start."

Ballou said makers of "life-cycle" development tool suites will most likely enter the market for application delivery management products. But the "suite people won't be development tool agnostic," and will most likely favor their own tools.

Emrich said Acqua will ship later this month. The tool is priced from $2,000 per user.