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IBM leads push to smooth software installation

Big Blue and partners develop spec for automatically spotting misconfigurations--part of drive to create self-managing systems.

An IBM-led group of companies has proposed a standard aimed at ironing out configuration problems in the installation of applications on business networks.

The XML-based specification, known as the Solution Installation for Autonomic Computing, was written by IBM, Novell, and installation software companies InstallShield Software and Zero G Software. IBM said the group's submission of the specification was accepted by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, Thursday.

The installation technology in the specification is a spin-off of work done by IBM in its autonomic computing effort to create hardware and software that have the "intelligence" to monitor and manage themselves as part of a distributed computing system. It reduces the cost and complexity of operating computers by cutting back on the need for human administrators.

The goal of the standardization effort is to drive adoption of the Solution Installation for Autonomic Computing format broadly in the industry, said David Bartlett, the director of autonomic computing at IBM. "We're really focused on an open industry initiative," he said.

Any standardized XML schema, or document format, to come out of the submission to the W3C will be offered to developers on a royalty-free basis, IBM said in a statement. InstallShield and Zero G Software have already incorporated the XML technology into their application installation tools.

The specification is an XML-based document format that defines the software needed to run an application. When a developer writes the installation part of a business program, he or she will be able to use a tool based on the format to outline what other software is required on the network. It is meant to prevent the configuration problems that can occur when a company installs or updates a business application in complex computing environments.

For example, an update to an insurance claims-processing application could require specific versions of a Web server or a certain hardware server configuration. Solution Installation tools can spot and sort out any problems automatically, instead of leaving them to be dealt with by an administrator, IBM said.

"Right now, there is no way to capture dependencies and prerequisites in the install process, so it's an error-prone, document-based process for developers to pass on that information to the customer, who is going to deploy the application," Bartlett said.

IBM said its studies have found that about half of application crashes stem from configuration issues rather than from poorly written code.

Now that the specification has been taken over by the W3C, IBM anticipates that other software companies will get involved in the development and standardization of it. The W3C will create a working group to modify the specification and eventually to recommend it as a standard.