Friday, December 22, 2006

OSGi Alliance at the end of 2006

The end of the year is nearing and that is a time to reflect. What did we achieve this year and where will we be heading to? Bear with me.

For me, this year was special because for the first time in my life I spent much of my time in non-technical work. The OSGi Alliance board had appointed me their official evangelist. That was a bit getting used to; suddenly I had to visit conferences, present OSGi technology and just talk about it instead of doing it. The hardest part was learning how to consistently use the word “OSGi” as an adjective for some trademark reason.

This evangelism thing is a bit hectic: EclipseCon in Santa Clara, ApacheCon in San Diego, ApacheCon Europe Dublin, Oredev in Malmö, Javapolis in Antwerp, CCNC in Las Vegas, OOPSLA in Portland, and BCC in Birmingham. Busy, but most of the conferences were very gratifying because I met so many people that are enthusiastic about the OSGi technology. It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many people that can enthusiastically tell me that they had been using OSGi for many, many years; most of the times from companies that I never heard of. But I love those stories and they make my work very rewarding. Next year it looks like there will be a similar schedule so do not hesitate to talk to me when you see me in my “Ask me about OSGi” shirt..

Mobile Specifications
In 2006 we had to finalize the Mobile specifications, which had some political hurdles. The project had run as a joint project between the JCP (JSR 232) and the OSGi Alliance. One of the key aspects has been the device management; a specification that uses the same concepts as the OMA DM protocol. JSR 246 had developed a similar specification for MIDP that was originally based on the work done in the OSGi but unfortunately deviated significantly. Fortunately, the spec leads Jon Bostrom (Nokia) and Jens Petzold (BenQ) realized that two similar but different specifications in the JCP would not be such a good idea. It was therefore great that the companies worked together and aligned the APIs.

There is a always a lot of work in finalizing specifications. Not only must the text be edited, reviewed, and reviewed, and reviewed … it is also necessary to ensure that the reference implementations and test suites are correct and nicely packaged. The mobile specification was truly an international effort, which did not make it easier. We had teams in Brazil, US, Hungary, Finland, and Bulgaria all working together to finalize the required artifacts. Great work and thanks all for the cooperation and patience!

After the mobile specification was finalized, I received one of the first prototypes from Nokia, an E70, that offered an OSGi framework. I remember racing to the local UPS to get it when it had arrived in Montpellier last June. The first versions needed some work but if everything works out I should get a new version today! I hope to write about many demos with this phone in the next year.

Even after working with the mobile specification for a long time, I still believe that the vision of an OSGi platform in a mobile phone opens a huge market of both niche and mass market applications.

From the outside there was not much news from the vehicle/automotive front. Part of the reason is that many members have been too actively involved in the EU sponsored Global System for Telematics (GST) project to spent much time inside the OSGi Alliance. However, a number of companies have remained active in the OSGi vehicle expert group and are working on some very interesting projects. One good decision of this group was to align the vehicle management specification with the mobile device management specification, including diagnostics. The Mobile OMA DM based device management architecture was slightly extended in cooperation with the mobile expert group and then included wholesale. Based on this specification, the vehicle group then developed an abstraction of the vehicle data. This abstraction allows applications to use vehicle data without having to concern themselves with actual models and car types. For example, an application can close all the doors on any compliant car or find out if it is raining.

However, the most important and interesting work has been the navigation model, driven by Olivier Pavé and Rob van den Berg (both Siemens VDO). This navigation model is my personal favorite. By providing a standardized API to the on-board navigation system the OSGi specifications will enable a very large number of interesting applications. A standard navigation system allows third parties to combine their unique data with position and guidance information. These applications can leverage a highly complex navigation system for their own goals, enabling applications that today are not feasible.

For example, the Guide Michelin could offer a bundle that helps you select a restaurant, make the reservations, and guide you to the selected restaurant. Or it could even notify you for a restaurant that is worth a detour. They even could push the envelope and suggest a trip to a restaurant that is worth the trip.

I hope that we will be able to finalize the vehicle work next year. I also have good hopes that some of the results of the GST project will be merged with the OSGi vehicle specifications. Next month (Jan 11) we will have a vehicle workshop in Detroit, looking at the guest list I am sure this will be a very interesting meeting that will put the OSGi vehicle group back on track.

The new kid on the block is the OSGi Enterprise Group! The OSGi Alliance is gaining a momentous amount of steam in the enterprise/server world lately. Though the core technology is very useful as is, there are clearly many requirements that could improve the core and extend the set of available standardized services. Service distribution seems to be at the top of the list, but there are many more areas, as became visible in the workshop. The challenge will be to keep the core lean and mean so that its applicability for the other markets does not get lost. However, I have full confidence that we will succeed there; there are too many people involved that distinctly dislike bloat and the success of POJO’s is a clear sign that our industry is becoming acutely aware of the threats of coupling.

BJ Hargrave (IBM) and I arranged a very successful Enterprise Workshop in September in the San Francisco bay area. This workshop has resulted in an active group of members that are willing to run an OSGi EG. The board approved a new Enterprise Expert Group last month, appointing Tim Diekmann (Siemens) and Eric Newcomer (IONA) as co-chairs.

Before 2006, OSGi technology was put on the map for most people by the Eclipse adoption of the OSGi service platform. This year, the visibility increased significantly because Interface 21, the company behind Spring, decided to support OSGi frameworks. That definitely was a good idea looking at the market response. Adrian Colyer (Interface21) took the lead but the work was shared by Hal Hildebrand (Oracle) and Andy Piper (BEA). The most interesting part for in this process was the reaction of the participants of this group to the OSGi technology. Initially the approach was to “support” OSGi frameworks. During the project, you saw the participants get more enthusiastic about the combination. It would surprise me if OSGi did not become a premier deployment platform for Spring. And vice versa. Spring has some very interesting techniques that overlap the Declarative Services from OSGi. I think it is definitely worth the effort to investigate how these two can work together. I hope Interface 21 will become an OSGi member soon so we can explore the possibilities of specifying the Spring-OSGi collaboration in a future specification.

JSR 277 and JSR 294 module systems
The dramatic highlight of this year is obviously JSR 277 and its brethren JSR 294. JSR 277 attempts to define a module system for the future Java 7 that has a significant overlap with the functionality of the OSGi core framework, JSR 294 is doing the same but restricts itself to changes to the VM and language.

I desperately tried to be on the JSR’s expert group but I was repeatedly denied, despite efforts from people like Doug Lea. Despite this rejection, I tried to evaluate the first draft from JSR 277 without too much bias in my blog. This blog was very well read by the industry. In general the reaction was that Sun should align with other standard groups if they have achieved significant results in the market and not try to reinvent the wheel. Last week I ran into Stanley Ho and Alex Buckley (JSR 277 and JSR 294 spec leads from Sun) at Javapolis an Antwerp. We had a good and pleasant discussion and I hope this will bear some fruit. However, these JSRs will be an ongoing saga so I am curious what next year will bring us.

JSR 291 OSGi Service Platform for J2SE
IBM filed JSR 291 with Glyn Normington (IBM) as lead this year. Though the OSGi specifications were already part of the JCP in JSR 232 (Mobile) it was felt that the visibility of a JME specification by the JCP SE/EE Executive Committee was too low for comfort. JSR 291 was setup as an open expert group that would provide requirements to the OSGi Alliance. All design work is done inside the OSGi Alliance by its members. Interestingly, this process was setup because of intellectual property rights but the separating the requirements gathering process from the API design worked really well in JSR 232 and now in JSR 291. Maybe this separation of concerns should be tried more often in the JCP?

Anyway, JSR 291 is moving along and will produce a specification next year. This will come out as OSGi Release 4.1, likely in April.

Apache Felix
Last year I was asked to support an incubation project at Apache: Felix. This project was based on Oscar, the first and popular open source implementation of the OSGi specifications. It was really nice to see how Richard S. Hall rallied a large group of people with enormous energy around this project. They have been working in incubation status during this year and are now ready to graduate to a top level project. I hope, and expect, that this graduation will push many more Apache projects to first enable their artifacts to run on an OSGi platform and later commit themselves to Felix. Many of Apache’s software projects scream for an underlying OSGi platform that can unify the myriad of plugin systems and class loader abuse present in Apache and other open source code.

OSGi Popularity
The best part for me this year was the tremendous increase in outside awareness of the OSGi Alliance. I remember sadly staring at 8770 Google hits for OSGi in 2005, today we have between 1.5 and 2.5 million hits. I do not really know what the number means, and it seems to depend on where you ask it, but the trend is to my liking. Same for Google alerts. In the beginning of this year I received about one Google Alert per week on the OSGi keyword (My week was good when I received two). Today I receive one every day with 5-10 links. Also the statistics of this blog look like we are on the root of the archetypical hockey stick curve. And best, the last few weeks we received a flurry of requests for membership as well as introductions to speak on conferences. If this trend continues, next year will be very busy, but I will love it!

So much more has happened this year but I am already impressed that certain readers got this far. Let us close with a short outlook for next year.

I expect that 2007 will be the year of the Enterprise. Much of the OSGi Alliance’s effort will go into creating a specification for server side/enterprise applications. I think that the key parties in this market will join the work so we can have a lean mean industry wide platform for server side applications.

I als see many signs that the home automation market is making a revival. This market is where we came from and it would do me great pleasure if we could increase our activities in this market. For the mobile market I expect several vendors to provide OSGi capability. This will create a flurry of development work. However, most of this work will be in specialized applications. The popularity of the platform will then likely become visible in 2008/2009. For 2007, mobile will offer interesting opportunities that can pay off handsomely.

OSGi DevCon
At last, I’d like to put in a plug for the OSGi developers conference which is held jointly with EclipseCon 2007 in Santa Clara 5-8 March. The OSGi track will be focused on server side, embedded, desktop, mobile, and other areas where OSGi platforms are used. If you have an interest in this area, please join us and meet all those other people that are involved in creating an eco-system for universal middleware.

Ok, this blog is way too long. Let me finish by wishing all the readers a fantastic 2007 and I hope to meet many of you next year on a workshop, member meeting, a conference, or online.

Peter Kriens

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