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OSGi Perspectives

It seems my recent post on OSGi has ruffled a few feathers. I’ve also received a few personal e-mails suggesting that I have missed the mark because OSGi is a significant component of the next generation application platform. Major vendors such as IBM are building OSGi into their products, and other leading edge vendors leverage OSGi as an enabling technology upon which their technical architecture is built.

My intent wasn’t to indict OSGi, so I was pretty surprised with the defensive responses I received…it’s a great technology and the benefits of modularity are real. As I’ve mentioned, and as many already know, I’m an ardent supporter of OSGi and modularity.

Based on the type of the feedback I’ve gotten on my previous post though, I’ve come to the realization that various constituencies have different perspectives that is contributing to the perception of OSGi adoption. Let me explain.

Differing Perspectives

In my post, The Two Faces of Modularity & OSGi, I talk about the runtime model and the development model. There are significant advantages to each. But interestingly, it’s possible for one to succeed while the other never sees widespread adoption. That is, OSGi might lie at the core of the next generation platform, but it doesn’t necessarily imply that enterprise developers will leverage it to build applications with a modular architecture.

Today, most vendors emphasize the runtime model, touting the cost savings, improved responsiveness, and flexibility of a dynamic platform. So I can understand why a lot of folks have reached out to explain to me the error of my ways. From their perspective, OSGi is flourishing.

An excellent example is the Eclipse platform, which released Eclipse 3.0 in June of 2004. However, I’d wager that only a fraction of Java developers using the Eclipse IDE know that OSGi is the major enabling technology upon which Eclipse is built. Instead, they use Eclipse, install plug-ins, but know very little about the underpinnings of the platform.

From a development perspective I’m incredibly interested in the benefits of modular architecture, and I want tools that reduce the accidental complexity of the development model. However, these tools don’t exist today, and developing enterprise server-side Java software applications leveraging OSGi is painful. So while vendors are leveraging OSGi for various platform benefits, as long as they encourage the traditional deployment model and the dearth of tools persist, enterprise developers will not use OSGi to build applications with a modular architecture. We don’t have it today, and we won’t see it in the future until this changes.

Parting Thoughts

I do believe that OSGI has the potential to be a major component of the next generation application platform. Though there are no guarantees, and I still have concerns. Let’s take SpringSource as an example. After seeing almost zero adoption of dm Server, they donated it to the Eclipse Foundation. And the recent VMForce announcement makes nary a mention of OSGi. Instead, tc Server provides the execution environment. So while some might argue that the runtime platform benefits of OSGi are real, there is a far more significant trend called the cloud that provides many of the same advantages. And the cloud certainly doesn’t need OSGi. Though OSGi could thrive in the cloud.

I’m also not convinced that the benefits of modularity will be realized by enterprise development teams. Will enterprise developers leverage OSGi and modularity as a core component of next generation architecture? I hope so, but I don’t believe it’s the slam dunk that many believe it is. Modularity is important. The benefits are real. It helps teams overcome a serious challenge when developing large enterprise software systems. But we need more developer advocacy surrounding OSGi and the benefits of modular architecture. Software is a fashion industry, and we must attach modularity to something trendy and more aggressively advocate adoption.

It is what it is. And unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.

From http://techdistrict.kirkk.com/2010/04/28/osgi-perspectives/

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