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IBM tunes up for Jazz open-source project

Set to launch in June, Jazz aims to modernize development tools for programming teams that are geographically spread out.

IBM is working on an open-source project called Jazz to promote programming tools for globally distributed teams.

Set to launch in June at Jazz.net, the project will be based on work from IBM Research and its Rational tools division around geographically distributed collaborative software development.

The primary goal of the project is to establish standards around distributed software development, which is becoming the norm, said Danny Sabbah, general manager of IBM Rational.

Historically, development tools have focused primarily on making individual programmers more productive. But as software development becomes more complex, IBM, Microsoft and others have focused on making products that address the full development lifecycle, from gathering application requirements to testing.

In addition, software development is increasingly done with offshore teams or business partners in different locations, Sabbah noted.

"It requires a fundamental rethinking of how we do development," he said. "We're no longer thinking about dealing with individual developer tools--that's a given. What's a lot more interesting is to better understand the whole software development process."

The Jazz software is meant to enhance collaborative software engineering by adapting existing collaboration tools and protocols to distributed development, Sabbah said.

Danny Sabbah,
general manager,
IBM Rational

For example, Jazz software will allow a programmer to send an instant message to a colleague with source code. Rather than see static text, the receiver could click to see where the code fits into the application, the original requirements and relevant tests.

IBM is building a model so that the Jazz software can be extended with add-on products and customized for specific purposes, such as developing code for consumer electronics devices, Sabbah said.

In June, IBM will also discuss how Jazz will be layered into IBM's existing Rational development suites, Sabbah said. He anticipated a free version of the software available at Jazz.net as well as more functional, fee-based versions.

RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said Jazz reflects an overall market trend toward modifying tools to operate better for teams working over the Internet.

"A significant portion, if not all developers, are operating in a geographically distributed fashion. Jazz adds a layer onto the development process to be aware of what each other is working on," O'Grady said.

Other modern features of Jazz are a spiffy Web-based user interface built using Ajax and integration with instant messaging, he added.

Eclipse redux?
With the Jazz project, IBM is trying to build on its success with Eclipse, an open-source development framework widely used by software vendors and programmers.

In 2001, IBM founded a consortium around the Eclipse software, which provides a framework for building development tool add-ons. Now an open-source organization, many software companies, including IBM, have adopted Eclipse and built plug-ins for specific purposes, such as working on databases or writing Ajax-style Web applications.

With Jazz, IBM intends to open-source a "framework," which will allow third parties to build extensions, Sabbah said. For example, other companies can build enhancements to the Jazz software to make teams more productive or build add-ons for specific industries.

The Jazz software is meant to work with Eclipse, but is also designed to work with non-Eclipse based software, such as Microsoft's Visual Studio, Sabbah said.

The goal is to use existing Web standards, such as Web services security protocols, in the Jazz project, Sabbah said. The software itself can run in a hosted mode over the Internet or be installed within a company's network, he added.

O'Grady noted that Internet-based source-code management systems and tool projects, like Sun Microsystems' NetBeans, are increasingly adding collaboration features.

One company, CollabNet, offers a meant for distributed programmer teams. IBM's Sabbah said the Jazz project is meant to have a greater scope than CollabNet's current offering.

O'Grady said Jazz has potential because most development tools were created before Web technologies such as Ajax or even instant messaging were pervasive.

However, the ultimate market impact of the open-source Jazz project will hinge largely on what IBM decides to release.

"In a perfect world what they do, which would be great for the Eclipse community, is to really have an open-source foundation that makes the developer experience for folks working remotely that much more seamless," he said. "The question is where they draw the line between what is open-source and what they keep as their special sauce."