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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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On API Replication and Web App Compatability


Commandeering Applications by Replicating APIs

I recently met with Jesse Stay to discuss some plans and ideas I have been working on at Mozy. As expected, Jesse’s insights and feedback were tremendously valuable. (Thanks, Jesse!)

Tweetie API endpoint config on iPhoneOne of the items Jesse directed my attention toward was the recent implementations of the Twitter API by three different sites: WordPress.com (the host of this blog), Tumblr (another popular blog hosting service), and identi.ca (a prominent Twitter alternative which has supported the Twitter API since 2008). By providing 100% API compatibility with Twitter, people can use any application built for Twitter with these other services (as long as the app allows you to modify the service URI/endpoint it uses). Because services survive or wither based on use, supporting a popular and relevant API can instantly yield a slew of applications to support users better. As a result of their work, WordPress.com has gained applications like the iPhone application Tweetie. Although many of the applications for Twitter currently do not allow you to modify the API endpoint (Tweetdeck, for example), most developers want more users, and API-level compatibility makes it short work for developers to support your service. I suspect that soon, nearly all applications created for Twitter will let you modify or add to the default API endpoint.

This got me to thinking about GroupWise, Novell’s strong alternative to Microsoft Exchange.

Novell: Align with Google for Developers

Novell GroupWise has a complete web API, and has for quite some time. Unfortunately, Novell seems to neglect developers these days–especially in their legacy products (as evidenced by GroupWise having only a SOAP API). Aside from their list of close partners, few developers use the GroupWise API.

Google Code logoMeanwhile, with Google’s enormous cachet with developers, numerous applications support Google’s collaboration-related APIs (such as Contacts). Perhaps even more importantly, developers can easily integrate Google’s API into new and existing apps through the numerous source code libraries available for Google’s various API’s (again, see Contacts, this time for the list of libs). Google’s Atom-based REST API’s are popular, well-understood, and widely used.

Consequently, Novell has an opportunity to serve their dwindling fan base better: replicate the Google API’s that are most relevant to GroupWise. Make it so that developers can easily adapt their apps to serve GroupWise, and so that end users can select from a wider assortment of 3rd party apps. This would give nothing over to Google that they don’t already have. It can only increase the relevance and extend the life of Novell’s venerable old product.

It also makes it possible for Novell to get on board with the biggest technology trend of the latter half of the last decade…

GroupWise in the Cloud

Since my time at Bungee Labs, I have been considering how Novell could offer GroupWise as a hosted SaaS offering as a way of acquiring aspiring new companies. As Salesforce has shown well, small is beautiful, and there is big business in the “No Software” proposition. This is where GroupWise competes (entirely ineffectively) with Gmail (“Google Mail,” actually) and its related collaboration components. It’s very easy to set up a Gmail account that uses your own company’s mail@domain. You can’t do that with GroupWise today.

But GroupWise does have something that Google lacks: a rich client. With all the apps that Google enjoys, none do a complete enough job of unifying all the typical collaboration features of an enterprise collaboration suite. With legacy collaboration being such an unsexy subject in the age of the social web, it seems unlikely that Google will re-solve some of these relatively mundane features. Finally, although there is a de facto rule about “everything through the web,” that does not mean “everything in the browser.” GroupWise has browser-based access, but it also has a full client that works online as well as offline, giving Novell a complete end-to-end advantage.

So put it all together–SaaS + Google API compatibility–and Novell has a viable technical path for GroupWise. All that remains is to figure out a  freemium model that can viably compete with Google. (This is where I clock out.)

Note I realize that it’s kind of cheap to sit back and throw out directives for how some other company should manage its API strategy while sparing any mention of the company over which I may have actual influence. Some of the above thinking applies to our planning at Mozy. However, we do not offer a public API (yet), so it’s a challenge to directly discuss this subject without getting mired in caveats and cautionary or indefinite statements. If you have any more than a casual interest in where Mozy is heading with our API, please contact me by commenting on this post.

Guest Spot on the Linux Action Show


On Saturday night, I joined Chris and Bryan to discuss web applications, software development in the age of cloud computing, and what the Free Software community must watch for regarding open source licenses.

Check out the show here.

Salesforce.com: A New Microsoft?


Salesforce.comSalesforce.com’s rapid rise to success has been the subject of much debate and speculation. Is Salesforce.com a complete anomaly, a lone black swan in a software market that remains steadfast in its traditional delivery model? In what other market category than Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has Software-as-a-Service been so wildly successful?

CRM seems an obvious choice for business success in Software as a Service (SaaS). Salesforce.com solidly meets a market need that is crisply defined, enabling companies to eschew the need to host their own CRM applications. I suspect that there is little need for me to explain why the “No Software” value proposition appeals to so many small and mid-sized businesses.

While watching CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference at San Francisco’s Moscone center last fall, I looked back over my shoulder at a vast crowd of thousands who seemed to hang on Benioff’s every word. Salesforce.com has developed what so all technology marketers should covet: a cult following. They have won the SaaS lottery in a huge way.

Salesforce.com’s success does more than merely demonstrate that the SaaS model works for CRM. With their first major success in SaaS already well established, they are well poised to control a significant portion of the growing SaaS market, which goes well beyond CRM. Benioff’s speech was accordingly bullish about this proposition.

A while back, I discussed how the ability to increment features will continually be one of the ways that SaaS asserts its power against both the purchase-and-install model of traditional software, or the download-and-use model of free/open source software. Big companies now have the SaaS/CRM space in their sites: Microsoft with Dynamics, Oracle with Orace CRM On Demand. Will these giants be able to carve into Salesforce’s dominance enough to unseat its leadership? If Salesforce.com keeps its market focus, perhaps they can outpace the new entrants by applying the feature crank-up that their SaaS leadership provides them.

At the same time, Salesforce may be seeking to become to SaaS what its two major assailants are to their own market spaces. Now firmly established as the in-the-cloud CRM platform—and supported by an increasingly sophisticated set of web APIs—is it possible that Salesforce.com has achieved the market power to stifle aspiring SaaS startups from attaining similar success in other markets beside CRM? That is, could they become (or are they already becoming) the Microsoft of SaaS?

Indeed, Benioff declared from the Dreamforce main stage that Salseforce.com now looks to enter into many new SaaS market spaces as to lay the groundwork for the new Force.com to eclipse Salesforce.com itself. The name implies a lot: it sets them up to break free from the CRM cocoon, and emerge something much broader.

As I listened, it occurred to me that any company wanting to win big in a potential SaaS market space would now be required to outmaneuver the emerging Force.com (as well as the entrepreneurs using force.com as a platform). Whether by leveraging it or by out-innovating it, aspiring SaaS entrepreneurs must now consider how Force.com factors into their business plans.

Here is where the rapid pace of innovation through collective collaboration touted by Free Software meets firm competition. The time-to-market advantage gained by using a cloud-based platform is considerable: while roll-your-own start-ups stitch together their data centers, LAMP stacks, etc., those companies that choose to launch from a cloud-based platforms will be delivering actual products. A reasonably priced, readily available platform offers much to the entrepreneur.

By introducing Force.com, Salesforce.com reveals aspirations that some readers might find unsettling. How much will force.com affect and influence innovation in SaaS? What constraints might force.com put upon Freedom—both software freedom and market freedom? To date, Salesforce.com things to get right in their development and pricing models, and they have yet to break out from the “mainly for CRM” association that most people make. Nevertheless, the potential of Salesforce.com becoming an industry monolith raises concern about openness in hosted platforms.

Notes
As I have noted in several earlier posts,
the platform in which I am involved, Bungee Connect, is still a proprietary offering using its own language. I believe Bungee Connect must move toward more openness to become a broadly accepted technology, free from the threat of monopolizing the SaaS platform market.

Nevertheless, even as a proprietary offering, I would assert that Bungee Connect is well-suited as an alternative to force.com for delivering SaaS applications. Yes, the pricing model beats out force.com, But more importantly to the goal of openness, the development model allows developers to create applications that are independent from the company providing it (for example, you own your own user registration, completely independent from that of Bungee Labs).

Updates
June 27, 2008: Salesforce Times picked up this post, somehow gleaning a positive from my comment about outmaneuvering Force.com.