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Q&A: SAP on Rich Apps, Architecture and Ajax-Based Portal Enhancements
Rich Internet applications promise interfaces that are more responsive, productive and adaptable to various deployment environments. SAP executives Dennis Moore, General Manager of Emerging Solutions, and Andrew Cabanski-Dunning, marketing director for NetWeaver User Productivity Solutions, discuss the required back-end infrastructure, and they reveal plans for Ajax-powered portal functionality to be introduced at next month's Sapphire event.
Last month we discussed rich Internet application (RIA) strategy with Oracle and Adobe. What's SAP doing to help customers infuse Web-based apps with rich-client functionality?
Dennis Moore (DM): RIA, services-oriented architecture (SOA), metadata, model-driven architecture, event-driven architecture - all of these aspects of Enterprise 2.0 really go together very nicely. It's nearly impossible to achieve a RIA architecture - even on one of the many RIA stacks - unless you've done a decent job of service-orienting the underlying capabilities you want to access. You need the metadata that describes not just the business process execution, but also the metadata that describes conceptually what the service is doing, how it can be used, and how it should adapt to different device capabilities in order to give you a rich application. That could be on a PDA or a smart phone as well as on widgets, Flash-type experiences as well as dynamic HTML Ajax-types of environments.
So SAP has spent the last several years doing all the really hard work of making all the capabilities of the MySAP business suite available for consumption through well-defined, rich-metadata-enabled services using all of the standards that you would expect to see.
What about front-end [UI] capabilities?
DM: We also have Web 2.0 functionality available now - portal, widgets, RSS, wikis, blogs and Ajax technologies - but having a rich, service-enabled backend is more important because proprietary systems don't really connect easily with environments like Ajax, widgets, Flash and so on. These environments are very friendly with standard Web services and rich XML metadata descriptions from the server. The front-end capabilities are interesting, but they're not that interesting until you can connect them to interesting back-end capabilities. RIA needs standard Web services from the backend in order to do what they do well. The front-end capabilities are interesting, but they're not that interesting until you can connect them to interesting back-end capabilities.
That's an important point, but can you say more about what you can do in the user environment?
Andrew Cabanski-Dunning (ACD): In January we introduced the SAP NetWeaver Business Client, which is an out-of-the-box, rich-client user interface (UI) for applications. It's flexible and it consumes services from the NetWeaver environment as well as other types of content - HTML, Flash/Flex, etc. Where Oracle and other vendors are saying "we'll give you a toolkit to build or enrich user interfaces," we're actually delivering a client with a highly interactive UI and simple, role-based navigation. It connects to the NetWeaver stack on the back end and pulls in key services for things like aggregation and navigation.
Does the client download online and does it support offline operation and resynchronization?
ACD: There is a client-side component that's installed dynamically, and it has all the levels of interactivity that you would expect from a new-generation client. It acts in the same way as a browser but uses XML instead of HTML to load the content into the client. There's also direct interaction with the desktop, so you can do things like drag-and-drop content between applications. The offline/resynchronization capabilities will come in the next version of the client. That's one of the key advantages of going beyond the browser, so we have included that in the roadmap.
You mentioned Ajax. Where does that come in?
ACD: A lot of portal users are getting very familiar and experienced in working with Web environments and using Web 2.0 technologies to customize and personalize their UIs. We're using Ajax to deliver a new Portal UI that will let users simplify their experience and create their own environment. We're also going to enable them to switch between a Web-style UI and a desktop-style UI if they're used to looking at things like folders and file icons rather than arrows and links.
The new Portal UI is called Lightning [as a project code name], and we're going to be demonstrating it at Sapphire (April 22-25). Many Web 2.0 capabilities are rolled into a project called Collaborative Portal, and that will include distributed Web content publishing, UI personalization, wikis and blogs, and "Community" capabilities that can be taken from an individual level to a team to an entire community of practice. We'll also support networking and communication between those communities using tags, so that's a very, very important introduction.
Is all that a Sapphire announcement or a release?
ACD: The portal capabilities are coming out in two phases in terms of packaged products, and the first will be released at Sapphire.
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