MENLO PARK, Calif.-Sun Microsystems has quietly let it slip that it is running private beta tests on a new set of development tools specifically designed for building social networking applications in the cloud.
Zmbly, the project's internal name, was released to a select group of beta testers about a week ago.
"You can think about it as a development environment for building social applications [in the cloud]," Ian Murdock, Sun vice-president of developer and community marketing, told me today at a conference about Sun's 2008 open-source road map on the company's campus here. These applications are "like Facebook applications, Google gadgets, etc.," Murdock said.
"In some ways it's an experiment," Murdock said. "In other ways, it's a pretty fundamental part of our cloud strategy-the notion that our cloud is essentially going to be a 'cloud of clouds.' How do you take services, wherever they live on the Web, and put them together in a way that's more structured than a mashup?" he asked.
There's a high degree of resemblance to the way the open-source world is now to the way it was 15 years ago, he said.
"Sure, you could download all the source code, compile it yourself and build your own Linux box, but there are way more people in the world who can download a Linux distribution," said Murdock, who co-founded the Debian Linux distro 15 years ago (his ex-wife was "Deb," he's "Ian").
So where does Sun add value to this development?
"We have technologies like ZFS [Zettabyte File System, a super-fast open-source file system] and DTrace [a fast new system-monitoring tool], and we can make those available as a service," Murdock said. "We can offer all the features of ZFS in kind of an on-demand fashion. How do [we] integrate DTrace with our developer tools? That's what we're trying here with Zmbly."
Murdock said that it's not about helping developers and companies build their own silos.
"It's about how we go about helping developers do what they are already doing," Murdock said, "and, of course, at the end of the day, monetize that work and participate in the build-out of the platform."
Zmbly is designed for people building mashups in a hosted fashion, Murdock said. "It's a much more structured environment than developers have available today," he said.