Tasktop's SLI Could Be Something Really Special for Developers

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-03-29

Tasktop's SLI Could Be Something Really Special for Developers

I was looking for something special to write about for enterprise developers, and I think Tasktop Technologies' Software Lifecycle Integration (SLI) announcement from EclipseCon this week fits the bill.

Tasktop, which plays in the application lifecycle management (ALM) integration world, on March 25, announced its SLI initiative, which aims to address the growing fragmentation and complexity enterprises face in large-scale software delivery.

Mik Kersten, Tasktop's CEO and founder, has had this SLI vision for some time. He said it's been in his head for about 15 years since before his Ph.D. thesis, which is what spawned his Eclipse Mylyn open-source project. Mylyn is a subsystem of Eclipse for task management.

It's an implementation of the Task-Focused Interface. The task-focused interface is a type of user interface that extends the desktop metaphor of the GUI to make tasks, not files and folders, the primary unit of interaction. Kersten invented it while working on his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in 2004. Tasktop has since seen its software adopted by the big boys.

"We saw Mylyn come up in other tools," Kersten said. "The ALM vendors followed us—either through OEM agreements or imitation. You could see the concepts of Mylyn creep into Visual Studio." Tasktop has OEM deals with IBM, Hewlett-Packard and CA. And the company has integrations with a host of other tools as well as cloud-based offerings, including Microsoft Team Foundation Service, the Oracle Developer Cloud Service and Atlassian OnDemand.

"At the outset of 2012, many were expecting consolidation in the ALM market, due to the proliferation of Agile and ALM tools we saw the year prior," Kersten said. "Instead, we saw the reverse, with both established players and incumbents launching new offerings, often differentiated by being tailored to a particular stage of the lifecycle. Stakeholder-specific tools have become a fundamental and beneficial part of the modern ALM stack. But they cannot deliver benefits with an infrastructure that supports cross-tool collaboration and visibility."

Enter SLI.

"Tasktop has been an important contributor to the Eclipse community for many years, and the Eclipse Mylyn project has been incredibly successful," said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation. "Software Lifecycle Integration is the next step in Tasktop's evolution as a leading ALM company."

Indeed, Kersten said Tasktop is "taking a leadership role" with SLI. It certainly is. The company is stepping forward to try to fill a void.

Moreover, said Kersten, without something like SLI, "we won't reach Marc Andreessen's forecast that software eats the world." Of course Kersten knows that software already is eating the world, but his SLI initiative could make it more palatable.

So this has been on Kersten's mind for a long time. But now the time is right for him to deliver on it. All the key factors have lined up, and the company is now in the right position to make a big bet—to make the big decision to attempt this.

Tasktop's SLI Could Be Something Really Special for Developers

It started with Kersten, he then brought in Neelan Choksi as president and chief operating officer, and now he has another guy to help push the vision as much as he does: Dave West as chief product officer. West is a scary-smart, stylish ALM industry veteran who has a knack for enchanting an audience.

Choksi is a business guy who keeps the place running, makes the deals and helps build the brand. As a former member of the MIT blackjack club, he doesn't make many bad bets, and you'd better believe he's looking to get paid, a.k.a. win. Not so much for himself, or not only for himself, but for the company. These guys are the Big 3 of Tasktop—Lebron, Wade and Bosh.

Or, rather, in a different sports analogy, Choksi is like a junior Ozzie Newsome. Like Ozzie, he's a mastermind at putting a winning team together. He did it at SolarMetric, at SpringSource and at Lexcycle. He may be doing it even better at Tasktop.

If Neelan is a junior Ozzie Newsome, then Mik is a junior Ray Ozzie. No, I'm serious. Ozzie made his name in collaboration software, from his early days at DG, Software Arts and Lotus, to founding Iris Associates, back to Lotus, to IBM, to founding Groove Networks, to Microsoft and beyond. He's known for Notes, and end-user technology.

Mik is known for Mylyn, a developer technology. Mik's thing is task management, and he can ride that like Ray Ozzie's ride on the collaboration software wave.

Kersten's stint at Xerox PARC and Intentional Software steeped him in aspect-oriented programming (AOP) and enabled him to work with other software visionaries like Gregor Kiczales and software billionaire/space tourist Charles Simonyi.

Meanwhile there's Dave West, former Rational guy, former IBMer, formerly a big-time analyst at Forrester. I could say Dave's like an Ozzie Smith because it's hard to get anything past him. But all I'm saying about West is that he's just some kind of wizard.

Still, SLI is a big undertaking. Will it work?

"I'm naturally cynical about any grand unification scheme in ALM because none have ever worked before," said Tony Baer, an analyst with Ovum. "Success depends too much on the kindness of strangers. Tasktop is one of the few players that has any credibility in this space, because they have traditionally come from a bottom-up approach that has been minimally threatening to established players. Whatever the odds for success, they've got as good a chance, and arguably better, than anybody else in this space."

Yes, we remember efforts like ALF, the now defunct Application Lifecycle Framework at Eclipse (not the goofy TV show with the space alien), which tried to do many of the same things as SLI. But if Tasktop can pull this off, the company believes SLI could be as seminal in the industry as Marc Fleury's famed White, Blue and Red papers, which helped define the professional open-source software movement, as he called it.

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