IBM Rational Backs Off on .Net Tools Support

IBM appears to be pulling back from earlier pledges to continue support for Microsoft and its .Net platform.

IBM and Microsoft Corp.s fight for development environment supremacy is heating up about as fast as the onset of summer, with both sides digging in for a showdown, although IBM appears willing to make a concession.

At its IBM Rational Software Development Conference in the searing heat of Las Vegas last week, IBM ratcheted up its battle cry a notch by introducing new technology to help the Armonk, N.Y., systems giant integrate its solutions for business, application development and IT operations, something Microsoft has been trying to do and is expecting to deliver with Visual Studio 2005 and the Microsoft Dynamic Systems Initiative.

IBMs plan, like Microsofts, includes heavy use of modeling technology to enable business analysts to essentially define models for applications, then have tools generate code to produce applications that will, through the use of automated tools, be more easily monitored and maintained by IT operations.

In fact, IBM demonstrated this capability at the conference when Grant Larsen, a model-driven development strategist for IBM Rational, showed what he called Solution Guides—or recipes for building solutions for various industries such as retail or insurance—in action in a demo using IBM technology available today.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is promising to deliver competitive technology when it releases its Visual Studio Team System later this year. Microsoft will likely heat up the debate around VSTS at its TechEd conference in Orlando, Fla., next week.

Meanwhile, though, despite early discussions regarding continued support for Microsoft and its .Net platform when IBM initially acquired Rational in 2003, Big Blue now seems to be pulling back from the pledges that Mike Devlin, the co-founder and former general manager of Rational, and Steve Mills, head of the IBM Software Group, made following the acquisition that IBM would continue to provide deep support for .Net.

/zimages/4/28571.gifAt the conference, IBMs Rational GM Devlin passes the torch. Click here to read more and about Big Blues new technology and services announcements.

"I dont think its a matter of pulling away," said Danny Sabbah, the newly appointed general manager of IBM Rational. "You have to be careful because Rational never had a significant presence … in terms of the core integrated development environments that developers use everyday.

"And I think prior to the acquisition by IBM, Rational did not play in that particular space," he said. "After the acquisition by IBM, all of a sudden Rational inherited an end-to-end life cycle capability that not only dealt with methodology and process, but also dealt with all aspects of integrated development. And I think that to a certain extent Microsoft saw that as a threat and so all of a sudden, basically moved to provide that kind of capability and to do it in the concept of Microsoft, with Microsoft itself growing outside. As we were growing inside that constituency, they were going to modelers and designers and team tools."

Moreover, Sabbah said Microsoft is in the midst of a transition in terms of overall programming models with Longhorn and Whidbey.

/zimages/4/28571.gifMicrosoft and IBM are taking decidedly different paths toward developer outreach. Click here to read more.

"Theyre trying to build their own integrated stack," Sabbah said. "So intercepting that set of core developers and making them end-to-end IBM developers or IBM Rational developers is not in the cards. It just isnt. Its impossible to do. And besides which it wouldnt make any sense because thats what Microsoft is trying to do. Theyre the ones who determine all the APIs, all the capabilities, all the underlying programming models. And so wed always be a dollar short and a few steps behind in that end-to-end capability.

"Now that doesnt mean that you cant provide value for developers who have created assets in .Net. You can make those assets an integral part of a heterogeneous environment and allow them to plug into broader architectures, allow them to be managed as life cycle assets and life cycle management in the context of broader solutions. I believe that we can still bring a tremendous amount of value on the modeling space, on the source code library management space to .Net developers. Its just going to be hard to intercept Microsoft at its core."

With that in mind, IBM demonstrated integration of some of its software life cycle tools such as Rational ClearCase and ClearQuest with Whidbey. But across the board support is not in the cards, Sabbah said.

Meanwhile, IBM last week reiterated that its primary weapon in the battle for tools supremacy will be the open-source Eclipse-based tool set, while Microsoft is backing its proprietary .Net-based VSTS.

"This again comes back to the customer, and lots of customers are heterogeneous," said Lee Nackman, vice president of product development and customer support at IBM Rational. "Is Microsoft going to give customers artifacts for developing on cross-platform systems?"

One customer, Aniello Bove, director of development environments at UBS AG in Zurich, Switzerland, said his organization is heavily into SOAs (service-oriented architectures). "Our new platform is based on SOA, and were using model-driven development" and the Object Management Groups Model Driven Architecture and Unified Modeling Language specifications. Partly for that reason, UBS has decided to go with IBMs development option, as Microsoft is not outwardly supporting the OMG specifications. "We decided what our architecture looks like, and there is no .Net development," Bove said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifIn an eWEEK interview, IBM Fellow and Rational Chief Scientist Grady Booch discussed Rationals development strategy and competition from Microsoft with its Visual Studio Team System. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, according to Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Gartner Inc., "the challenge for IBM is that all of their tools are shifting to be based around Eclipse, and Eclipse provides a set of features that arent there in VSTS. In particular, Eclipse has the eclipse modeling framework and ecore. These are implementations of the OMGs eMOF spec. MOF is the Meta Object Facility, essentially a meta model for modeling, transforms, etc. the e is for essential, which is a subset of the full spec. Microsoft wont support MOF, so unless someone else supports it, it would be difficult to put the new IBM Rational modeling tools into the VSTS environment."

However, a lot of IBMs customers are Microsoft development shops. "It seems that they have essentially become willing at this point to write off that revenue," Murphy said. "IBM and Microsoft are the two most opposed competitors in the market at this point. I believe that IBM looks at the market and figures that open source is the best way to kill Microsoft, and this is part of their reason to hop on the bandwagon in such a vigorous manner."

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