Project Zero promises hassle-free Web 2.0

IBM is working on a project to enable agile development of Web 2.0 applications, but the effort has drawn criticism because it is not an open source endeavor.

Called Project Zero, it offers an environment for building applications based on popular Web technologies. Included is a scripting runtime for Groovy and PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Also featured are APIs for developing REST-style (Representational State Transfer) services and capabilities for mashups and rich Web interfaces.

REST and Atom form the basis of the service invocation model while JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and XML provide for data interchange. AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is the model for a rich client in Zero. Extensive scripting is supported.

“The name Zero is a reminder of the project’s aspirations: Zero unnecessary overhead and complexity. Zero barriers to success. Zero of what you don’t need,” the Project Zero Web site states.

“Project Zero is designed to enable faster, more productive development and deployment of Web applications and Web-based services. It sets out to allow developers to spend more time writing actual code instead of complex configuration files,” according to the site.

A goal of Project Zero is enabling development of Web 2.0-type applications, featuring user-contributed content.

“IBM’s Project Zero can be thought of as something of an application server for Groovy and PHP code bases,” says Stephen O’Grady, principal analyst at RedMonk.

“I think that from a technology standpoint Project Zero is a good step in the right direction,” says analyst Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research. “REST-based Web services and dynamic languages like PHP and JavaScript are gaining increased momentum in the market because they make it simpler to build and consume services.”

The project’s Web site features an online community and infrastructure used to develop Zero. Rather than leveraging open source, Zero follows what IBM calls “a community-driven commercial development process,” in which contributions in the form of feedback are welcomed. IBM sees benefits of this format as being centered on real-time communication with users.

An IBM official defended the company’s stance.

“There are currently no plans to release Project Zero under an open source license. While the community-driven commercial development process shares many of the benefits of open source projects, Project Zero is a commercial endeavor, and write access is restricted to IBM-approved committers,” says Jason McGee, the IBM Distinguished Engineer responsible for the project, in a statement released by the company. But he emphasized that IBM is in open source’s corner.

“IBM remains committed to open source. Project Zero follows a commercial software development effort, in much the same way as other commercial offerings from IBM. [The] fact that Project Zero is based on a number of open source technologies and that it represents such a significant investment on top of these technologies speaks to IBM’s commitment,” McGee says.

IBM’s strategy has fomented objections in places such as TheServerSide online community. Analysts also were displeased.

“Of note also is the development model, which while borrowing its transparency from open source, imposes significant restrictions on consumption and deployment. While this is an improvement on traditional closed-source development practices, it is not in fact open source and will suffer when compared to it,” O’Grady says.

“I have to wonder what the motivation is for an external party to contribute code to this particular project when there is no guarantee that they would be able to use it long-term due to the restricted licensing terms,” says Hammond.

Product plans for Project Zero depend upon community feedback and alignment with product development efforts, an IBM representative said.

In time, there will be a facility to share reusable components, such as widgets and services, developed as part of the project, IBM said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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