Model-driven development, AJAX shortcomings aired

Executives and others note shortcomings at SD West conference but say the industry is on the cusp of a next generation of dynamic development

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. -- Interest in model-driven software development and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is high, but plenty of room for improvement remains for both technologies, according to speakers and attendees at the SD West 2006 conference on Wednesday.

Separate sessions at the conference focused on the two topics. During one 90-minute session, panelists from companies such as Microsoft, Compuware, and SAP mostly discussed shortcomings of software modeling.

Model-driven development needs to be woven with other technologies such as patterns and frameworks, said Jack Greenfield, software architect for Enterprise Frameworks and Tools and Microsoft.

"I don't believe in high-level models where I push a big red button and it generates a lot of stuff that I'm expected to live with," Greenfield said. He cited CASE as presenting a failed example of this.

But panelist Juha-Pekka Tolvanen, co-president and CEO of MetaCase, countered by saying full code generation from the models is possible.

One issue with modeling is that not everyone knows how to do it, creating a disconnect between those who can and those cannot, said panelist Scott Ambler, a consultant with Ambysoft. "It's no good if only one or two people on our team know how to model and everybody else doesn’t have a clue," he said. The definition of modeling should be expanded, however, Ambler said.

Responding to a question about resolving design issues among developers, Greenfield urged the use of best practices and pitched Microsoft's Software Factories concept. "At the end of the day, Software Factories, which I developed, is really about capturing these best practices and communicating those best practices," he said.

Model-driven development "puts the end at the front as if the goal is to use models," Greenfield said. The goal is to understand how to build systems and spend less time reinventing them, he said.

The OMG Model Driven Architecture (MDA), in fact, lacks an architecture, Greenfield said. MDA relies on Unified Modeling Language (UML); Microsoft has not been a big supporter of UML but other panelists noted its use in modeling.

Management of metadata was cited as critical. "You have to have a coordinated approach to how you manage the metadata," said David Frankel, lead standards architect for Model Driven Systems at SAP.

Compuware's Jon Kern, subject matter expert in the company's Optimal J group, urged that consideration be given to hiring the best people for a project. "Just hire the smart ones and you don’t have to worry about getting them there," he said.

An audience member asked about use of Eclipse technology in modeling. But Compuware's Kern was not sold. "The MOF (MetaObject Facility) is more powerful and allows you to do more things than the Eclipse generator," he said.

"Eclipse is no silver bullet," Kern said.

An audience member said current modeling tools are difficult because they usually do not consider what a model is. "Not a single tool that I have ever used adequately supports the entire process," the audience member said.

Ambler said the industry needs to recognize that not everyone thinks visually. "We have no clue how many people here are visual thinkers," Ambler said.

During a session about Web application development, which focused exclusively on AJAX, one SD West attendee asked the presenter, author Christian Gross, about whether JavaScript would in the future be the sole language for client-side development.

"There's definitely limitations that we have in JavaScript," such as issues with extensibility, maintainability and enforcement, the audience member said.

Gross responded that an upgraded version of JavaScript, known as Version 2.0, has been released but not implemented. "There is a JavaScript that has a lot of these things solved. Nobody's released it," Gross said.

Asked afterward why no one is offering the JavaScript upgrade, Gross responded, "I don't know. It's a good question."

Microsoft has been more proactive with the upgraded JavaScript than other companies, Gross said.

Another audience member said his company was building an SOA, with a big push to use AJAX. But there are concerns about security, he said.

Gross said one open standard for digital rights management is needed for this problem. "The AJAX client is insecure and there's nothing you do to get around that," Gross said.

The WS-Security specification could be used, but no one has been doing that because it is too complicated, he said. Gross also advised the audience to consider Amazon's PKI approach to security. A VPN also is a possible solution.

Flash, Gross said, is an alternative to AJAX, However, "It requires another skill set," he said.

Gross cited a disconnect between vendors and the community over AJAX. "I don't think the vendors got it. I think the community gets it," he said. There is a struggle right now over issues such as APIs, he said.

Not all the banter about AJAX was negative, however. Gross pointed out as example of of what can be done with AJAX an innovative map search Web site in Switzerland, map.search.ch, that enables users to pay for parking spaces right from the site. "This is the Web site that I like to use when saying we can build these types of apps," he said.

The industry is on the cusp of a next generation of dynamic development, Gross said.

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