Hosted Developer Tools

An Interview with Atlassian's Jeffrey Walker

by Frank Sommers
May 8, 2008

Software-as-service (SaaS) has started to permeate the field of software development tools as well, says Atlassian's Jeffrey Walker in this interview with Artima. Walker describes important characteristics of hosted developer tools, and highlights the need for such tools to integrate well with locally-installed tools, such as IDEs.

An increasing variety of enterprise software has become available on a hosted, subscription basis. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings now include customer management, inventory tracking, or video conferencing. Developer tools, such as source control or issue tracking have also become available lately as network-based subscription services.

In this interview from JavaOne 2008, Atlassian's Jeffrey Walker describes JIRA Studio, his company's hosted developer tools offering. Walker mentions the importance of starting with individually strong tools, and then moving them to a hosted environment, and also highlights the significance of integrating hosted tools with locally installed ones, such as a developer's IDE:

We see hosted development tools as the next important stage of companies adopting SaaS [software as a service]. It's still relatively early, and this opportunity is going to unfold even more in the next two years, and will, over time, become more accepted.

Currently, the vast majority of development tools are downloaded and installed locally, either on a developer's machine, or in an enterprise or department. And, in fact, supporting that type of deployment has been our hallmark at Atlassian. But we think the timing is right for us now to introduce a development tool set, JIRA Studio, based on the hosted paradigm.

For developers, there is not that much difference between a hosted development environment and one that's installed locally. Developers develop the code, and use these tools in the process. By using a hosted solution, you are eliminating the headache of managing the infrastructure, and you can focus on the code. So it's about freeing up some of your internal cycles and some of your capabilities, and increasing the efficiency of the team.

Developers aren't sys admins: they shouldn't have to be managing the tools infrastructure. In a bigger team, you may be hiring someone that does that for you, but even then, you'd want the best-of-breed services when it comes to setting up and managing your developer tools. We are the tool experts, and this is all we do. In a hosted environment, you let us do that, and you get the best-of-breed outcome as a result.

We started JIRA Studio from tools that were already individually strong. We've always felt that each tool needed to stand on its own and be useful and attract a reasonable amount of customers. Having individually strong tools contrasts with just having a vision for a hosted development suite, because we wanted to avoid the typical weak links inherent in software suites. We could not have done this even a few years ago, and now we can be a lot more successful. We think that this can be our next big product, following in the footsteps of JIRA and Confluence.

With JIRA Studio, you don't have to install an issue tracker, a code repository server, and you don't have to maintain those over time. As new versions of those tools become available, you don't have to worry about that. And you don't have to worry about doing backups. We take separate tools, such as JIRA, a bug tracker, and Confluence, our Wiki, and plug them together. That way, you don't have to worry about integrating those tools: They work seamlessly as a single whole. We do all that for you. As long as you can get an Internet connection to those tools, you can go to work.

While hosted tools save you all the work of installing and maintaining a development environment, you also want to run some tools locally, on your workstation. Foremost of those is your IDE. And the hosted tools become even more useful when they seamlessly integrate with the IDE, for instance. To that effect, we just introduced a plug-in to IntelliJ IDEA, and will introduce one for Eclipse soon. You can use those tools in the IDE and access the functionality of JIRA Studio in an integrated manner.

What do you think of hosted development tools?


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About the author

Frank Sommers is Editor-in-Chief of Artima Developer. He also serves as chief editor of the IEEE Technical Committee on Scalable Computing's newsletter, and is an elected member of the Jini Community's Technical Advisory Committee. Prior to joining Artima, Frank wrote the Jiniology and Web services columns for JavaWorld.