Enterprise Unix Roundup: Jabbering Openly

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Apr 1, 2005


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Sun's support for XMPP in its Java System Instant Messaging application makes it the latest participant in the jabber about Jabber. Xtraceroute displays both a visual and text representation of the route packets travel when moving around the planet.

Michael Hall
Amy Newman

When the definitive book about the Free Software and Open Source movements is finally written, we're confident the movements will be valued for providing enabling resources, regardless of the politics of the developers, or the "Kill Bill" alterna-crowd.

Sun's slow journey from a confused and erratic embrace of Linux to a broader acceptance of the real value open source software can provide (i.e., less as a rebadged product than as a collection of raw materials) will fuel the book's narrative.

It will also give more than subplot status to Jabber, which is rapidly becoming a common denominator technology on the same level as Samba when it comes to turning up in interesting places.

To clear up a common point of confusion, several entities bear the name "Jabber." It's the popular designation for a formal instant messaging (IM) protocol (XMPP), and it's the name by which a family of servers using XMPP goes. The XMPP protocol concerns itself with both IM and the attendant issue of "presence," which encompasses how one expresses availability, both in terms of the networked device on which he or she is currently most available (i.e., a mobile phone, computer, wireless handheld, or even PBX phone) and physical location (e.g., in the office, at home, or on the road).

To clear up a common point of confusion, several entities bear the name "Jabber." It's the popular designation for a formal IM protocol (XMPP), and it's the name by which a family of servers using XMPP goes.

Jabber's developers first announced publicly available code in 1999. The initial goals of the project's developers were only mildly ambitious: They wanted to create a messaging protocol and server framework that would allow IM users access to the public networks. To no small extent, the project suffered from comparisons to clients that merely enabled users to quietly connect with the public networks by impersonating a native client.

In terms of popular uptake, Jabber has also suffered from a dearth of dedicated clients that fully leverage the protocol's benefits, the willingness of public IM networks to change their own protocols just enough to break Jabber's compatibility with them from time-to-time, and the inertia of users habituated to both the intractable lack of interoperability between public IM networks and the use of multinetwork clients to overcome that lack.

But while Jabber seemed to be struggling in terms of gaining mindshare among even the most enthusiastic open source advocates, the emphasis of the project shifted from access to the public networks to a more ambitious effort to promote an IM standard via the underlying Jabber protocol, XMPP. Those efforts reached fruition early last year when the IETF ratified XMPP as a "proposed standard," which went a long way to legitimating it.

Before even that, Apple smelled opportunity with XMPP and included it as part of its own IM client, iChat. When a Macintosh user on a LAN permits it, the iChat client broadcasts his or her presence to other users on the local network segment — independent of iChat's default messaging protocol, which is driven by AOL's AIM. iChat uses XMPP (and Rendezvous, its implementation of Zeroconf networking) to accomplish this. Apple's use of Jabber as a core offering will continue with this year's release of Tiger Server, which will provide a Jabber server for out-of-the-box IM on corporate LANs. Early rumors indicate iChat will also expose public Jabber servers to end users alongside AIM's central server. We suspect, however, that will be less important to end users than perhaps a polished, ready-to-use IM server will be to IT managers.

In the same way the company has incorporated the GNOME desktop, and Apple uses FreeBSD as the underpinnings of OS X, Sun is using Jabber as a raw material of practical value.

And now Sun's on the Jabber bandwagon, having announced that XMPP is part of its Java System Instant Messaging application. As is the case with many open source offerings, Jabber hasn't proven to be an all-or-nothing proposition: The company says it will look at other protocols for future use, but it's content to start with XMPP simply to enjoy the benefits of interoperability and open standards.

More important than any "open source upstart destroys corporate competitors" tale is the way Sun came to Jabber: Reportedly after using its own in-house protocol for several years. In the same way the company has incorporated the GNOME desktop, and Apple uses FreeBSD as the underpinnings of OS X, Sun is using Jabber as a raw material of practical value.

It's popular to talk about whether a company "gets" open source, and companies spend a lot of time (both through their well-paid flacks and the ever-popular execublog) proclaiming how hip they are to open source. When that definitive history we mentioned is written, though, cluefulness will be measured not by the column inch of publicity, but rather by how many lines of code they put to use to produce plenty of good results.

In Other News

» Linus Torvalds has called for more regular performance tests on the Linux kernel in the hopes that efficiency issues will be highlighted sooner. The recommendation was made in response to Intel employee Kenneth Chen's discovery of performance lags in various versions of the 2.6 kernel when compared to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 baseline, which runs on version 2.4 of the kernel but contains various added features from version 2.6.

» The much-anticipated MySQL business upgrade reached beta status earlier this week. MySQL 5.0.3 is the first beta release of the upgraded open source database, and it adds several features designed for corporate users, including stored procedures, triggers, and views. The database runs on Linux, Solaris, AIX, Windows, and Mac OS X. It is scheduled to go gold in June.

» Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman's latest musings on open source, the GPL, and the FSF can be found in a recent interview.

» In what can only be an April Fool's joke, Paris Hilton's mobile phone snafu may have earned her another stop when her Simple Life road trip comes to a close. The Australia-based Age reports the Open Source Development League is recruiting the celebrity heiress "for exposure." If reports are true, Hilton has much to be proud of, she beat out Pamela Anderson, whose current claim to fame is of being the most downloaded person on the Internet.

» Looking to learn more about Jabber? ServerWatch reviews the popular open source Jabberd server this week and took a broad look at the Jabber protocol.

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