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* Products

New JBuilder from Inprise

Inprise/Borland (www.inprise.com) has just released at the beginning of September the new version of its Java development tool. The tool supports the latest Java version and offers functions for remote debugging.

Besides the technical news, this event is important as a sign of the return of Inprise/Borland to the "serious" activity of producing tools for the software developer after its failed merger with Corel. The "back to the root" feeling is reinforced by the fact that the old Borland name is making a strong comeback in the company's communication items. Without judging the products' qualities, it is in the best interest of the software development community to have another strong competitor in our industry.

Visible releases Analyst 7.5

Visible Systems (www.visible.com) has released at the end of August a new version of its Visible Analyst. The main new feature is the support of the UML diagrams which ads to the feature of XML generation.

This release is another example showing that the modelling war has been definitively won by the UML, after its adoption as a standard by the OMG. There is still some competition left at the methodology level, but there are many chances that the Rational Unified Process will also dominate the commercial software development world, even if some other organisations, like the OPEN or DSDM consortiums, are offering alternative approaches.

* Companies

Hot Summer at the Head

It has been a hot summertime at the top of some of the largest software companies with three CEOs saying good-bye to their job.

At Corel, the chief executive and founder Michael Cowpland has stepped down from the top spot. After failing its marriage with Inprise/Borland and making a huge bet on a desktop Linux market that has not (yet?) materialised, Corel found itself in very difficult financial position. About 20% of the work force (320 jobs) have been cut as a direct result of the failed merger. Just at when closing this edition, Corel is getting a large cash infusion from Microsoft!

Informix announced also that it will cut about 500 jobs as part of an effort to save 70 to 80 millions of dollars a year. This announcement was made after second quarter revenue fell 4% from the same last-year period. CEO Jean-Yves Dexmier was ousted only one year after its nomination. The new CEO is Peter Gyenes, previously CEO of Ardent, a datawarehouse company acquired by Informix at the beginning of this year. In a reverse-take-over way, many former senior managers of Ardent have now been placed at the top of Informix.

Finally, Charles Wang, the CEO of Computer Associates (CA) has left its job, letting the operational direction to its long time number two Sanjay Kumar. CA announced it will refocus its business in three areas: security, network management and application development. Special divisions like the iCan-ASP will be spin off. Like its competitors BMC or Compuware, CA has recently suffered from the decline in sales in the mainframe area.

The common fact between these three situations is that the sharp decline of the stock price following the bad news announcement seems to be the most important catalyst for change than the customers needs. We will not say that this is a surprise, especially for CA...

$9%£ Numbers

R.I.P.

  • Over 60% of all Web-access data resides on a mainframe
  • Cobol mainframes process more than 83% of all transactions worldwide
  • Over 95% of finance-insurance data is processed with Cobol

Source: "In Cobol's Defense", Roundtable, IEEE Software, March/April 2000.

I am not afraid personally of the death of Cobol and the end of the mainframe already announced in the 90s... but I will be much worried in 20 years after the death of the last remaining mainframe Cobol programmer!

Project Success (and Failure!) Profiles

Here are some numbers from the famous Standish Group research on how software development projects reach success, or more precisely failure. These numbers are the result of a study conducted with 365 organisations representing 8'380 applications. According to the study, 31% of the projects were cancelled before ever getting completed.

Project Success Factors

  1. User Involvement 15,9%
  2. Executive Management Support 13,9%
  3. Clear Requirements 13,0%
  4. Proper Planning 9,6%
  5. Realistic Expectations 8,2%
  6. Smaller Milestones 7,7%
  7. Competent Staff 7,2%
  8. Ownership 5,3%
  9. Clear Vision & Objectives 2,9%
  10. Hard-Working Staff 2,4%

Other 13,9%

Project Challenged Factors

  1. Lack of User Input 12,8%
  2. Incomplete Requirements 12,3%
  3. Changing Requirements 11,8%
  4. Lack of Executive Support 7,5%
  5. Technology Incompetence 7,0%
  6. Lack of Resources 6,4%
  7. Unrealistic Expectations 5,9%
  8. Unclear Objectives 5,3%
  9. Unrealistic Time Frames 4,3%
  10. New Technology 3,7%

Other 23,0%

Project Impaired Factors

  1. Incomplete Requirements 13,1%
  2. Lack of User Involvement 12,4%
  3. Lack of Resources 10,6%
  4. Unrealistic Expectations 9,9%
  5. Lack of Executive Support 9,3%
  6. Changing Requirements 8,7%
  7. Lack of Planning 8,1%
  8. Didn't Need It Any Longer 7,5%
  9. Lack of IT management 6,2%
  10. Technology Illiteracy 4,3%

Other 9,9%

Source: Standish Group, Chaos Project, http://standishgroup.com/visitor/chaos.htm

The evidence is here: users are still the biggest problem in software development projects...:-]

* In Others' Words

Is the Web different?

"About every 10 years or so, a major new software related technology captures the industry's consciousness. Avant garde software folks claim it as their own, and in so doing, become the darlings of the technological scene. High salaries, considerable prestige, and no small amount of hubris are sure to follow. The corps of avant garde adherents argue that the new technology is truly different, requiring a new "paradigm." The ways of the past simply don't apply. In fact, the old ways can't possibly be adapted to a new set of business rules and technological realities. As a result, the avant garde reject the disciplines of the generation that preceded them, but ironically, adopt approaches that failed miserably a few generations back.

The Internet and the vast array of applications that it has spawned are undoubtedly a major new software related technology. I won't bore you with the obvious clichés; suffice it to say that the Internet and the WebApps that populate it are big - very big - and that their impact is profound.

What worries me is that this major new technology has become a breeding ground for important WebApps that are hacked in much the same way as important application software was hacked a few generations back - in the 1960s and 1970s.

WebApps have to be hacked, argue the avant garde (who, of course, would never use the word "hacked"), because:

  • WebApps must be developed in days or weeks - time frames that don't allow for anything but a rush to the finish line.
  • WebApps are constantly evolving - so why spend time specifying what's needed and designing how to build it when everything will change anyway?
  • WebApps are inherently different than application software - content (text, graphics, images, audio, and video, for example) is inextricably integrated with procedural processing.
  • The people who use WebApps are more tolerant of errors. What users really want are cool Web sites that are up and running in days, and besides, it's almost impossible to know what WebApp users really want, because the demographics of Web visitors are so hard to predict.
  • The people who build WebApps are different - free-thinkers all - who certainly would feel unduly constrained by the old ways. In fact, talk of disciplined approach - other than build it, test it to death (if time permits), and then put it online - usually results in grimaces all around.

Of course, I'm overstating my point a bit, but you get the picture. Too many WebApp developers make these statements in an attempt to erect barricades against an old school view that suggests a disciplined, engineering approach to the creation of business critical Web-based systems.

[...] This leads us to the pivotal question: Can software engineering principles, concepts, and methods be applied to WebApp development? I believe that many of them can, but their application may require a somewhat different spin.

[...] I contend that software engineering principles always work. It's never inappropriate to stress solid problem solving, good design, and thorough testing (not to mention the control of change, an emphasis on quality, yadda, yadda). A specific software process might fail because it is overkill, or the work products it requires are unnecessary or burdensome, or a person or team becomes overly dogmatic in the application of the process. But history is on the side of a solid engineering approach.

[...] There is much managers can learn from the new generation of WebApp developers - their enthusiasm, creativity, technical competence, and innate understanding of what makes a good WebApp must not be ignored. But there are also things that the new generation can learn from those of us who have been around the block a few times. The question, really, is whether any meaningful learning will occur (in either direction).

[...] The philosopher George Santayana thought hard when he made the comment: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." But maybe that's our karma in the software biz. There's absolutely nothing that I've seen over the past 30 years to make me think otherwise."

Source: "What a Tangled Web We Weave", Roger S. Pressman, IEEE Software, January/February 2000

Do you want to change your karma?

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