When it comes to talk about computing in “the cloud,” my thinking on the subject is, well, cloudy. I know companies like Google and Microsoft are working on getting there, and Salesforce.com is basically cloud central. But nobodys achieved this overall strategy of building out a back-end infrastructure to support an extensive network of services residing out on the Web. So, even though Im not from Missouri, my attitude about this cloud stuff has been “show me.”
Last week, a Swedish startup did just that. Or lets say the company showed me how it plans to deliver and explained it a whole lot better than the others in the cloud operating system race have. I met with Daniel Arthursson, CEO of Xcerion, in Seattle, where the Linkoping, Sweden, company has U.S. offices.
Arthursson showed off its XIOS (Xcerion Internet OS) and rapid application development tools—the companys cloud OS and development platform, all built in XML.
Arthursson said the OS is driven completely by XML; the user interface is described in XML as well as the business logic for handling the application and user input. Xcerion also provides an extensive IDE (integrated development environment) for visually creating these XML documents without having to know either programming or XML.
The XML documents that drive XIOS may also be generated by server-side code and application servers, Arthursson said.
The company has two major themes that resonate in its tag lines. One is “All software should be free— unless you charge for it.” Another is “Every computer is my computer.”
Xcerion will launch its offering in the third quarter, providing the core Internet service, scalable data centers, payment engine, ratings engine, operating system and development framework, IDE, and community of users, using the service.
“Were going to do for software what Skype did for telephony,” Arthursson said.
Essentially, Xcerion is creating an online marketplace for finding, buying and selling software to enable a “long tail” business for software by creating a new economy cluster with an online community, entrepreneurs and corporations. The service is targeted at consumers and small and midsize businesses.
In Xcerions world, software will be delivered as an Internet service, relieving users of installation, updates and backups. In addition, the cloud OS eliminates the need for PCs by providing an online virtual hard drive—accessible from everywhere—for users, Arthursson said. The company has established a farm of servers running Ubuntu Linux to host data.
Will it work? Well, some noteworthy backers seem to think so. Xcerion counts among its advisers and financial backers John Connors, former chief financial officer at Microsoft; Lou Perazzoli, former Microsoft distinguished engineer, architect of Windows NT and former general manager of the Microsoft Core OS Group; Michael Heijer, president of Grancorp and chairman of Northwest International Bank; Mikael Bergsten, a partner at Ernst & Young; and Terry Drayton, founder of Ramp Technology Group and HomeGrocer.com.
However, as a development watcher, I think the best part about the Xcerion story is its development scheme, which enables people to create applications with no coding.
All development is done visually, and the output from the process is pure XML; no programming is needed; and rich applications can be created cheaply in weeks instead of years, Arthursson said.
“This is a way to develop software without programming,” he said. “Its like a flowchart; you draw out your components, and that becomes your application logic,” Arthursson said as he demonstrated the creation of an RSS reader by simply dragging and dropping reusable parts.
“This is the next step on model-driven development,” he said. “The model becomes the software; its more like orchestration. We dont use Visio; we dont use any Microsoft technology.”
Although Xcerion is expecting developers to build applications for its platform, “well also make apps ourselves until we reach critical mass,” Arthursson said. “The goal is to have a couple hundred apps running over the next two to three years.” The applications can run on Linux, Windows or the Macintosh.
“We see this as an attempt to strike some balance in the software industry and to make software available to everybody,” Arthursson said. Indeed, with Xcerion, “a student in India has the opportunity to create some software and make some money from it,” he said.
XIOS runs on top of the computer OS and uses only the Web browser as its sandbox, according to Xcerion. All application logic and application rendering are handled within the browser. Within the browser, the Xcerion cloud OS downloads itself in about 3 seconds and runs in the primary memory of the computer. As soon as the browser is shut down, the OS is removed from the computer. Thus, it never installs itself or any component on users computers; it is always freshly downloaded from the Internet service, Arthursson said.
“The best thing I can compare it to is Windows for Workgroups 3.11 running on top of DOS,” he said.
Although Xcerion is not targeting any company in particular, Arthursson said XIOS “accomplishes everything Ray Ozzie [Microsofts chief software architect] wants to do in integrating his Groove into the [Windows] platform.”
“If you remove the network connection, you can continue to work with Xcerion documents, and when you log on again, you can sync up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Xcerion is looking for partnerships to deliver offerings such as trusted hard drives. “The OS is completely skinnable, so you can do different flavors,” Arthursson said.
The Xcerion team took more than five years to put the technology together, coming from the ERP (enterprise resource planning) world. The choice of XML was primarily for portability and data handling, but, as XML is notorious for performance issues, the team worked feverishly to optimize the Xcerion code.
“Performance has been one really hard obstacle to overcome,” Arthursson said. “Weve been working many years to optimize the code, so even though its XML, its actually very fast.”
So although I have to admit that my view of software as a pie-in-the-sky solution is still somewhat cloudy, I think I can see a little more clearly now.
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