Enterprise Web 2.0: More Than a Facelift

There are important differences between consumer Web 2.0 applications and next-gen Web apps in the enterprise, said Oracle's Chief Architect Ted Farrell, and developers who want their applications to succeed in the latter environment need to appreciate those differences.

"If you look at the consumer space, the problems are much simpler, the environments are much simpler and you can create functions that you can't create in the enterprise space," Farrell told attendees gathered for this week's (September 23-26) AjaxWorld Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Corporate IT is often stuck with a tangle of legacy systems and older user interfaces (UIs) that aren't best suited for rich Internet applications (RIAs). And they have to rewrite their UIs to accommodate core Web 2.0 technologies, such as Flash.

What the enterprise needs is a UI framework that's "implementation-technology agnostic," Farrell said.

"What I mean by that is being able to build Web pages mixing and matching content, regardless of how it's implemented," he added. "So I could build a Web page and drop in a JavaScript AJAX table that's talking to a backend database. But in that same page I could also drop in a Flash pie chart that's talking to a backend business intelligence system showing a slice of my business statistics. And then on that same page, I drop in a portlet as well that's running PeopleSoft, which includes tools with a proprietary language. I can wire all these up in a single user interface. As a developer, my goal would be to do all that without getting involved in those separate technologies."

Farrell gave the opening keynote, entitled "Why Web 2.0 for the Enterprise Is Far More Than Just a Facelift." In a post-keynote interview, Farrell talked about some of the challenges enterprise developers face when confronting Web 2.0 technologies, and the "look of fear in their eyes when you say 'rewrite.'"

"Enterprise IT views these kinds of software technology changes as migrations," he said. "They turn to you and ask, where's the migration script? And you have to explain to them that this is a fundamentally different way to build applications. It will give you all these benefits, but you've got the wrong architecture."

The "agnostic UI" idea is about providing a framework, he explained, so that, when new technology comes along that needs to be incorporated into an RIA, the UI can be extended instead of rewritten.

"Enterprise developers are a different breed," he said. "Their goal is to deliver it and make it stable. They don't usually get the luxury of playing with cool new technology. Anything that allows them to deliver and work with new tech is very well received."

Farrell's message to the cowboy coders at AjaxWorld was simple: Think like an enterprise developer; don't get caught up in the technology; and consider the application lifecycle.

"If you're going to write Web 2.0 software for the enterprise space, you have to take a step back and appreciate that it's not all about the technology," he said. "Technology is incredibly empowering to enterprises, but the cost of maintenance and change can be crippling to them. So step back and chose your implementation so it'll survive time and tech changes."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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