Application servers have become commoditized. First, there are several very good Open Source Application Servers from Apache Geronimo plus Tomcat through to JBoss, Jonas, Resin and Zope among others. Second, major commercial software vendors give their app servers away free – Microsoft has made its app server features a part of operating system in the case of Windows Server 2003. Expect some of the higher priced versions of Longhorn Windows Server to key on advanced application server and messaging services. Likewise, IBM gives away its basic Websphere Application Server engine. And for developers, Oracle does the same for its App Server.
So vendors like BEA and Adobe have had to adapt. Adobe ? Yep – Jeremy Allaire, the creative force behind Cold Fusion had a vision for his application server which was not pinned to being just a Web server. Rather, Cold Fusion was the server-side backend to an HTML-like tag language that could integrate, mix and match to a whole variety of backend services: database, collaboration/mail, queued messaging, realtime media delivery, and SOAP-based Web services among others. And because Cold Fusion moved to a J2EE base it could act as either as a stand alone app server or swap out with other J2EE servers like WebSphere etc.
Web Developer Friendly Integration Server
Over time Cold Fusion has not changed its basic XML/HTML tags model. This model is Web developer friendly. Although there are programming-like capabilities in Cold Fusion, it is still largely tag and attributes based coding which is easier for many Web developers to pick up. Through wizards and CFComponents advanced developers can hide some of the programming complexities inevitable with backend servers. The result has been a tight, almost fanatical user base.
However, in Scorpio or Cold Fusion 8, Adobe has added mightily to three important areas so that it is becoming more of an Integration Server. First, on the backend Cold Fusion can back out and now add JBoss or Adobes own LiveCycle PDF-backend or .NET Framework (including the ability to interface to Exchange Server and run.NET Assemblies) among other app servers as it point of contact. This is important because it provides Cold Fusion with broader fronting-the-backend capabilities. This is no small deal with mixed server environs becoming the norm.
Second, on the interface front, Cold Fusion has made major GUI advances. It now integrates with AJAX, Adobe Flex, Adobe PDF and Adobe Apollo much more comprehensively. Already Cold Fusion had moved to Flex and Flash for a new interface beyond its own display and report oriented tags. Now Cold Fusion is extending the GUI interface to AJAX and Apollo on the GUI input and control side. This is important because it has also meant the delivery of a more full development environ. Eclipse is now the base developer tool for Cold Fusion including a smart editor, AJAX/Spry designer, and new interactive debugger.
The latter is important because as Integration Server a lot of Cold Fusion code gets executed on the backend server. Finally on the display and reporting side Cold Fusion 8 adds significant new PDF capabilities and a wildly popular method of doing PowerPoint-like presentations but with the content under programmatic and database control. This is similar to the capabilities brought to Apollo, PDF and Flash. IThus Cold Fusion 8 becomes a key RIA enabler. Finally, Web developers will like the fact that the cfreports tag now supports CSS stylesheets in a major way.
Third, on the administration and operations side, Cold Fusion has moved from good to better if not top of the line implementations. For example, in the admin arena Cold Fusion has added more precise Security features and monitoring screens and wizards. As we have noted Cold Fusion serves a broader range of Application Servers including .NET based frameworks and assemblies plus the Exchange server. In addition, users have finer operational control over threads and stored procedures. Finally, Cold Fusion 8 provides multi-server monitoring and control.
To this observer, Cold Fusion is becoming more and more what HTML 5 or 6 or 7 would have evolved to if there had not been the debilitating Browser Wars and then the Great Winter when Microsoft deliberately thwarted improvements/advancements on most W3C and Web standards for nearly ten years. So it is ironic that Cold Fusion 8 introduces broader support on the .NET Framework even in the light of Microsofts direct attacks on PDF, Flash and Apollo/Flex. Perhaps the lure of being regarded the Integration Server par excellence out weighed the need to parry Redmond thrusts into Adobes own markets. Certainly the improved performance added to the new features outlined above, make Cold Fusion 8s free beta a must see for shops involved in Web 2.0 applications/ This is particularly true those developers delivering media like Flash, PDF, Presentations, and video/multimedia with dynamic content – and integrating that across a number of different database and other services. Also users having to deliver the same GUI content across PC desktop, Web and mobile platforms will find Cold Fusion 8 beta a must see. Checkout the free beta, and be sure to download the Eclipse plugins plus the complete set of documentation. Its worth the while.