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3/11/2008
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Premiere Global Uses Appcelerator To Speed Web App Development

The platform introduces Web Expression Language to give standard HTML elements on a Web page the ability to send and receive messages from an Internet server.

Jeff Haynie is CEO of the Atlanta startup, Appcelerator, and he thinks the time has come for Web 2.0 applications to be built primarily with Web technologies, not add-ons to existing proprietary tools, such as Adobe Flex added to Flash or Silverlight added to Microsoft .Net.

As a result, his firm is offering Appcelerator Platform as a way "to take advantage of Ajax in next generation application architecture." He means Web applications organized as services. The firm made its platform open source code under the GPLv2 in October, after a year in development.

Co-founder and CEO Jeff Haynie; co-founder and CTO Nolan Wright
Co-founder and CEO Jeff Haynie; co-founder and CTO Nolan Wright

Marc Fleury, the former CEO of JBoss, joined Appcelerator's advisory board in December. He said Yahoo, Google, and Amazon have demonstrated what can be done with applications based on Web technologies. Enterprises "now want to leverage their investment in systems by offering rich Internet applications on top of their infrastructures." Appcelerator can help them do so, he said in a statement Dec. 12 as he joined the board.

The platform introduces Web Expression Language to give standard HTML elements on a Web page the ability to send and receive messages from an Internet server, which means interactions with end users can take place without waiting for a new page to appear. The messages are managed by a Client Message Broker, and developers can use Appcelerator's Rich Internet Widget Framework to add a special feature, such as a mapping capability, to a Web application.

Appcelerator wants to do for Web applications what Spring did for Java applications: give developers an environment in which they visually assemble an application instead of a language syntax in which to write it. An underlying framework supplies the plumbing to ease the connection to databases and backend systems and move the application into production.

In effect, Appcelerator is invoking Ajax, JavaScript, HTML and Cascading Style Sheets and a library of user interface widgets to create a graphical application building environment. The idea, said Haynie, is to build Web applications quickly, using Web Expression Language and a widget library to assemble services, connect to databases and enterprise backend systems and craft interactions through the user interface.

An early customer, one of leading e-mail campaign management firms, Premiere Global Services, said it adopted the platform and uses it to "abstract away the differences" between competing front ends, such as .Net and Java. In addition, Appcelerator irons out the way Ajax tends to run differently in different browsers.

What's more important, the platform tends to do away with "the interminable requirements analysis process that produces a dry 50-page document." Instead, developers to move straight to building a use case, an example of how functionality in the sought after application will be presented to users. The prospective customers test-drive the use case and offer feedback on whether it was what they had in mind.

"We can go from concept bullet points to interactive use cases quickly to show to stakeholders," said Mike Dickerson, senior VP and general manager of e-marketing solutions. Developers offer mock services for the use case or application prototype, then when users are satisfied with the application, connect it to actual backend systems.

Dickerson said the approach has enabled Premiere Global to speed up new services for its 47,000 customers, which include many Fortune 500 companies, from its previous benchmark of two years to six months for a "soft launch" and 90 days after that for a production system. "It shortened the time massively and gave us a visual, truly interactive way to build applications," Dickerson said.

Premiere Global offers, in addition to e-mail marketing campaigns, various Web conferencing and communication services. Seeing how fast new Web services can be built for enterprises, Dickerson said the Appcelerator experience "is transformational for our company." He is thinking in terms of services that were too time-constrained or changed too frequently to be considered in the past, such as giving pharmaceutical suppliers an e-mail system with which to notify customers how frequently to take their prescriptions or notify airline customers of special combination services.

Dickerson said he wasn't entirely comfortable betting new services on a two-year old startup, but once it made the platform open source code, he was less worried. "If something untoward happened to the company, we'd still have control over our destiny," he said.

His engineering staff is working "flat out" on new services and can't spend time contribution to the Appcelerator open source project, but Dickerson said he monitors where it's headed and Premiere programmers frequently offer feedback on features and functions. That feedback helped establish how the product was behaving across browsers, he said in an interview.

The firm has 200 programmers in R&D. Five developers are trained in Appcelerator, with another 15 able to use it in connection with their primary duties.

Haynie said his firm's platform can work with existing systems written in Java, .Net, Ruby, Perl, PHP and Python. The platform's design, with its built in messaging, is meant to follow a services-oriented architecture in developing Web applications, he said in an interview.

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