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IBM Rational and Microsoft tango in the ALM moonlight

IBM Rational and Microsoft have been doing something of a tango dance in recent years, trying to come up with a killer application lifecycle management (ALM) platform.

The world of application lifecycle management (ALM) tooling is moving ahead at a steady pace largely due to efforts of interesting new players mining the idea that better collaboration among people is at the heart of Agile development. Vendors such as ThoughtWorks Studios, VersionOne, and Rally Software have tried to find new ways to connect tools, development data, and people. Meanwhile, two powerhouses at the top of the development industry, IBM Rational and Microsoft, are trying to update their lifecycle management suites.

It seems Microsoft may have reached a good level of maturity in its flagship ALM offering just as IBM is trying to bring out a whole new ALM platform.

In a remarkable twist, both IBM Rational and Microsoft are at the beginning of new product cycles. The two companies have been doing something of a tango in recent years, trying to come up with a killer ALM platform.

IBM bought Rational early in the decade when the scourge of late and over-budget software projects had reached a sort of zenith. Corporate development managers -- and IBM consultants, for that matter -- had little idea when software would be ready for delivery and how good it was in terms of quality. It is widely held that Microsoft was a few steps away from buying Rational just before IBM stepped in. The Rational suite of test, requirements, UML modeling, configuration, and other tools helped a lot of big enterprises bring more order to their software processes.

The Rational suite's integrations were good for the day. But even IBM now admits the integration of development data and processes could be much better. In fits and starts over a number of years, IBM Rational has begun to roll out Jazz-based offerings to update the suite.

Jazz is an attempt to bring ease of integration to the server tools, much as IBM's Eclipse brought integration to client tools. The company with various third parties, including Mainsoft, CAST and iRise, has tried a number of integration architectures since work first began on Jazz. The most recent method revolves around loose, so-called REST integration.

IBM's first Jazz-based product formally appeared at the end of June. IBM hopes an ever-growing string of open-source projects and third parties will come to the Jazz platform, much as they have with Eclipse.

Microsoft beyond the desktop
When Microsoft announced Visual Studio Team System (VSTS), it was the company's first real foray beyond desktop development. There was no question that its enterprise customers were being lured by IBM Rational -- and the promise of repeatable software development results. VSTS seeks to integrate design, development and testing tool functions. But it has taken some time to get it right. Most notable in its latest release are fixes to its underlying Team Foundation Server (TFS), which many teams found lacking in performance and difficult in configuration.

To date, the means of integrating third-party tools to VSTS is pretty proprietary. That means complex APIs are shared with outsiders who agree to some serious licensing terms. However, Microsoft has opened up a bit in its dealings with Visual Studio Industry Partners, as it realizes the public measures its style of integration against open Eclipse-style integration.

IBM Rational not only supports UML, but it invented it. After years of foot dragging, Microsoft recently admitted it would support UML more fully in its VSTS tools. While UML does have its pros and cons, sharing UML notation and models is pretty much a prerequisite for ALM integration in many enterprises.

Microsoft has begun to discuss a repository known now as Oslo, which appears as though it may be a confederation of service-oriented architecture (SOA) registries and development data artifacts.

It seems Microsoft may have reached a good level of maturity in its flagship ALM offering just as IBM is trying to bring out a whole new ALM platform. Microsoft is playing catch up on UML, but IBM Rational has some catching up to do, too. All of which bodes well for both the Agile startups and the ALM customers. Microsoft's registry work would clearly qualify as a "multiyear effort," and there is some reason to believe the entire face of development will change one or two times before we are able to gauge if Oslo made sense or not.

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