Hear the term “social networking” in IT circles, and websites like Myspace.com, which allow you to post your own content and make new friends online, will likely spring to mind.
But social networking is also a crucial component of the open source software development movement and has been responsible for all the major open source platforms, from Apache to Linux.
Developers, testers and project managers spread across the world, and working on a voluntary basis, collaborated to create the Firefox web browser.
Now IBM’s software development arm Rational plans to employ the community spirit of the open source community to work on “open commercial” products, with participants sharing the development and licensing costs.
In what Rational’s general manager Daniel Sabbah refers to as “gated communities”, software developers will increasingly collaborate on development projects based in many cases on the Eclipse open standard development platform.
IBM bases many of its products on open-source code and, under an initiative known as Beacon, gave some of its proprietary code to the Eclipse Foundation to encourage open source development.
Sabbah says valuable lessons could be learnt from the methodology used by the intelligence community, which draws on the expertise of numerous military and government bodies to complete a project.
“It applies just as readily outside the intelligence and defence communities,” he says.
While Rational creates a large amount of proprietary software, it has been more willing to work with the open source community than competitors such as Microsoft.
“I am not concerned about open source software,” says Sabbah.
“That doesn’t mean I’m stupid. We’re not going to fight it like others have. Open source has a very important part to play in the mass adoption of standards,” he says.
Last week Rational unveiled major upgrades to its software development platform and promised a more sweeping evolution of its software to come.
“The whole notion of software development must accelerate,” says Sabbah.
“We’ll build, test and deploy in a way that wasn’t possible before.”
Sabbah says the gated communities concept would become the norm for software development.“As you increase the number of connections, you get a tremendous increase in effectiveness,” he says.
While the version 7 release of 12 Rational development tools focuses on greater transparency in the software lifecycle and improved IT governance, Rational also unveiled its Jazz concept, which consists of server and client tools designed to encourage collaboration on software development. Jazz will include communication tools that are already the norm for those communicating via the web — instant messaging, RSS feeds, wikis and blogs.
Version 8 of Rational’s product suite will be improved to meet the needs of the distributed development environments that community projects generally involve.