Software Quality Insights

Dec 17 2008   5:02PM GMT

Open source, agile help move to lean software development

Jan Stafford Jan Stafford Profile: Jan Stafford

Bloated applications, platforms and architectures slow application development and make quality control and everyday usage time-consuming and nonproductive, said Forrester Research principal analyst John R. Rymer in a phone conversation yesterday. In this post, I’ll share Rymer’s thoughts on why software pros should join the lean software movement and his advice on how to create appropriately sized and efficient software. 

Forrester’s newly-published report, Lean Software is Agile, Fit-to-Purpose, and Efficient, lays out how software got so fat, costly and inefficient; the evidence that IT organizations are moving to lean software; the challenges involved in lightweight software development; and strategies for joining the movement. Rymer told me that the demand for lean or lightweight software is coming from conventional business application users, the ones who first signed up for mainstream — and now bloated — apps from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and other major software vendors. Many took the path of least resistance, as in following the safe IT path that spawned the saying: “Nobody ever gets fired for choosing IBM.”  

While major software vendors piled on features that add complexity and can foster customer lock-in, in came the lean software approach of Linux and open source developers. 

“Open source is the driving factor for lean computing,” said Rymer. “Now people can replace conventional application servers, for example, with open source application servers and get lower cost and more innovative features. People are comfortable with open source software, which is now in its second wave of adoption.”  

Agile development is another popular path away from traditional “big-bang” software development.  

“Agile development is independent of any technical platform or development approach,” said Rymer. “It’s a method. What’s neat about this is that people are delivering application features sometimes every two weeks or each month. Rather than deliver the big-bang project after years of work, they’re delivering applications in increments. They’re working in an incremental fashion to deliver features over time, providing value quickly and continue to add value. That’s a way to modulate your costs, to spread your costs and investment over a period of time.” 

This Forrester report’s recommendations advise software pros to update their application platform and tools strategies. How do your tools and platforms fit with the lean software approach? Right now, many organizations are working with platforms that are too bloated and nonproductive, Rymer said. 

“A lot of shops adopted J2EE, and they’re really struggling now to keep up with the demand for new applications. It’s not a real productive environment. Just coding things up in Java takes a lot of time.” 

The era of one-development-platform shops should be over, Rymer said. 

“If you have a variety of application scenarios, don’t assume you have to adopt one platform to do all of them. There are a variety of tools now. People who choose to use Spring (Application Framework), for example, are oftentimes using it alongside their J2EE. They can run the Spring on an extra app server. So, it’s not like there are these hairy choices that force you to throw away what you’ve got. Pick the right tool for the job, and if you’re smart about it you can integrate these things.”  

Rymer suggested that the PHP framework is built for speedy development. It’s now “a real framework and not a collection of modules,” he said. “You can build certain Web applications very quickly, much more quickly than you can with either conventional .NET or Java development.”  

Don’t think that lean computing is a movement to oust established vendors, Rymer noted before we signed off. Remember that even Microsoft is involved in the second wave of open source development tools adoption. “If you want to use Ruby or Python in the .NET world, you can,” he said. When change is driven by developer and business IT pros, big vendors like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle will join in. 

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