October 6, 2004

Jabber developers gain more code as Jive opens up server

Author: Jay Lyman

When AOL opened up some of its ICQ instant messaging APIs last April, there was criticism that the open source move was bogus. But the latest IM code contribution from Jive is no jive, according to Jabber open source developers.

David Hersh, CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Jive Software, said the IM and
presence software maker has always supported the open source movement, which
in turn has played a large role in Jive's development. Jive's Messenger server
has been a commercial product since its 2002 inception, but it is XMPP-compatible, with a reputation for scalability and stability. Jive
also provides its Smack XMPP client library as open source under the Apache license.

Server 'very useful' for development community

"When we made a business decision not to pursue the enterprise IM
market -- we instead have focused on live sales and support interactions
with customers from a company's Web site -- it became clear that the server
was less important from the financial perspective for us but potentially
very useful to the development community, and useful in helping to increase
the adoption of the XMPP standard," Hersh said in an email to NewsForge.

Hersh said the company's ongoing strategy continues to center on XMPP,
its Jive Messenger based on the protocol, and Jive's open source XMPP client
library, which will all serve as a base for future Jive products.

IETF stamps XMPP with RFCs

The XMPP instant messaging and presence protocol of choice for the Jabber Software Foundation and developer community got further endorsement by the IETF this week as the standards body published RFCs that are now available online.

The specifications published this week are: RFC3920, the core XML streaming technology behind Jabber applications; RFC3921, which outlines basic IM and presence extensions such as contact lists and whitelisting/blacklisting; RFC 3922, a mapping of XMPP to the IETF's abstract syntax for IM and presence; and RFC 3923, an extension for interoperable, end-to-end security.

In an email statement, Jabber praised the codification, calling it "great news that should give the market even more confidence in building advanced presence-based applications, regardless of the system vendor they are working with." Jabber said the standard would promote interoperability and openness for partners, customers, and others.

Jabber Software Foundation executive director and XMPP editor Peter Saint-Andre told NewsForge the RFCs are a major milestone in the evolution of Jabber, which has grown from "a few small open source projects" in 1999 to "a worldwide phenomenon with involvement from companies like Apple, HP, Oracle, and Sun, not to mention hundreds of open source, shareware, and commercial products and tens of thousands of deployments."

"The fact that the core Jabber protocols have been formalized as IETF RFCs will lead to even greater adoption, especially by more cautious organizations such as governments and financial institutions," Saint-Andre said.

The JSF head said there are two major challenges ahead for wider and broader XMPP deployment. The first is the upgrading of existing codebases to conform to the XMPP RFCs.

"This is an ongoing effort among open source, shareware, and commercial developers with some projects and companies quite far along," Saint-Andre said. "In order to encourage upgrades and further the cause of interoperability, the JSF may initiate a compliance testing effort to certify software as fully conformant with both the XMPP specs and various XMPP extensions defined by the JSF."

Second was the integration of XMPP-based, real-time messaging and presence awareness into a wider range of applications, Saint-Andre said.

His examples included just-in-time RSS/Atom feeds, WebDAV and version control notifications, single sign-on across applications, groupware alerts, presence-enabled address books, smart message routing in workflow systems based on presence information, and integration of Jabber functionality with Web conferencing and multimedia streams.

"There is work happening in all of these areas, so I think it's only a matter of time before those efforts come to fruition," Saint-Andre said.

While similar open source strategies have brought cries of "abandonware,"
Jive has a history with open source and the Jabber developer community.

"We have been involved with the Jabber community since Messenger was
initially created, so it was very exciting to them that there would be
another open source server available, besides Jabberd," Hersh said. "So far,
the reaction has been exceedingly positive -- quite a number of 'Wow' and
'Fantastic!' comments in our forums, and people are already signing up to
submit code. It's a big win to have the full stack of a high-quality client
library and server."

Hersh said by open sourcing Smack and now licensing Messenger under the
GPL, the company's aim has been to increase adoption of the XMPP standard.

"Our business will be focused only on one part of the overall puzzle, but
we hope some of the large communities out there will start bundling XMPP
with their servers and applications for standard IM," Hersh said. "As the
overall adoption grows, so will our business."

Hersh said Jive believes XMPP is easily the most powerful and practical
standard for IM, evidenced by deployment into large developer communities,
thousands of implementations, and a proven track record that includes IETF
ratification.

"SIP/SIMPLE isn't as developed or proven at this point," Hersh said of
rival standards. "However, it is on the rise because it is better at
managing VoIP transactions. We anticipate there being solid gateways between
the protocols, as opposed to companies having to choose one protocol."

Radicati Group analyst Genelle Hung said Jive is in a good market space
but remains a small player compared to proprietary IM providers and products
such as ICQ, which has a much larger market share (some 150 million users) -- thanks largely to its owner, AOL.

Nevertheless, Hung said Jive may find success betting on the XMPP
standard as it competes with SIP, SIMPLE, and other protocols that have yet
to shake out in an expanding market.

Market ultimately will determine standard

"Right now, we don't know what standard will win," Hung said. "The market
is trying to figure out which is better. It really has to be tested in the
market and that has to happen, which makes it a good thing that people are
jumping on the open source bandwagon."

Hung said open source is now playing a more prominent role in IM,
presence and corporate communication software because there is much talk,
but much less in the way of tangible, usable applications.

"That's why open source is becoming popular," Hung said. "People are
saying let's develop, let's test, let's see how viable this is."

Hung praised the Jive open sourcing with Jabber and XMPP, referring to a
very cohesive development community that has stood strong and together
despite being called "the black sheep" by the greater IM community.

"For everything people have thrown at them, they've taken it and said,
'OK, we're going to prove you wrong,'" Hung said.

Despite strong support from the Jabber and XMPP community, Hung said the
success of the standard -- and of Jive's open sourcing its Messenger -- are by
no means guaranteed, and the major IM players have yet to be convinced.

For his part, Jabber Software Foundation Executive Director Peter
Saint-Andre said the open source Jive Messenger may be more significant for
system administrators than developers -- at least in the short term -- because
Jive Messenger represents the first stable, cross-platform XMPP server
available under an open source license. The existing open source servers are
optimized for Unix, Saint-Andre explained.

"Organizations on Windows now have a free, easy-to-deploy Jabber/XMPP
server, and that expands the market tremendously," Saint-Andre said.

He also said with Jive's main focus on developing customer support and
knowledge management systems for Fortune 1,000 companies, it is logical for
the company to open source its IM server.

"Their XMPP software is not part of their core competency, so open
sourcing that code makes sense for them and is consistent with the economic
models that Eric Raymond talks about in "The Cathedral and the
Bazaar,"
Saint-Andre said.

Comparing Jive's open sourcing with that of
AOL
earlier this year, Saint-Andre said the latter was a release of some
semi-open, client side APIs for its ICQ IM service, not open source code for
a full, real-time messaging server.

ICQ APIs 'cute,' but not powerful enough

"The ICQ APIs enable you to do some cute stuff, but longer term, there's
a lot more power in code," Saint-Andre said. "Large corporations especially
could care less about eye candy for ICQ, but they sit up and take notice when a
solid Java code is available for an IETF-approved messaging and presence
technology."

Saint-Andre said developers are already jumping in to "grok" the
Messenger code base, adding that once they start contributing, more
Jabber/XMPP protocols and support will emerge to provide lacking features,
such as server-to-server communications.

"Also, the fact that it's pure Java will encourage involvement from a
broader range of developers and increase interest among the Java community,"
Saint-Andre added. "For example, just this week some folks involved in the
Eclipse project have started to talk about integrating XMPP support into
that IDE."

Describing XMPP as a streaming XML technology for sending messages and
presence in real time, Saint-Andre said the standard is now being used to
build and deploy financial trading systems, network management software,
distributed gaming platforms, and more.

"So this is about much more than IM, it's about real-time Internet," said Saint-Andre, who added the IETF was likely to publish the Jabber/XMPP RFCs soon.

The Jabber Software Foundation director also referred to companies such
as Apple, HP, Oracle, and Sun, which are all actively developing or
integrating XMPP-based software into their offerings, and more similar work
that is happening quietly.

"I'm sure that many more organizations are working on XMPP projects
behind the scenes," he said. "The availability of a fully open source XMPP
server written in Java may well spur other companies to open source some of
their own XMPP code, further strengthening the momentum behind Jabber/XMPP
technologies."

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