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Clear Methods Airs Latest Steam Engine

Clear Methods, a startup that has created a language and runtime engine that can power XML as an alternative to Java or .NET in some instances, has released the latest version of its Steam Engine -- Version 3.10.

The Cambridge, Mass. firm said the new iteration of Steam features tighter database integration, moves XML to all tiers of computing and eliminates the need for wrappers when implementing Web services applications, all of which CEO Mike Plusch said will make Steam a more functional product than previous versions.

Plusch, who positions his products as easier to use than J2EE and as an alternative to the proprietary nature of .NET, told internetnews.com one of the major new aspects of Steam is its new level of database integration. Steam applications are developed in the Water language, an open, object-oriented language that makes it possible to express business logic in XML.

"We looked at 'How do you integrate relational data, like CICS transactions, with object data," Plusch said. "There has always been an awkward relationship between relational data and object data because they each take a different view. A relational model is more flexible than an object model because you can add or remove things at the runtime stage. Traditionally, the object model couldn't be simplified, but we've found a much simpler way than traditional objectional models by subsuming the majority of what people used SQL for."

Plusch said developers traditionally include SQL strings in Java code to get back result sets that don't represent business objects.

"We've mapped it to list of orders so that you can query it in Water query. The Water language is bridging the gap between the relational model and objectional model," he said.

Another new feature, Plusch said, is XML 1.0 semantic normalization, which automatically removes ambiguity from a query. The CEO said that when XML renders a purchase order, developers sometimes render it 12 different ways, which can be confusing to the person on the receiving end.

"But how do you get it back when you're receiving different versions of the same thing?" Plusch said. XML normalization cuts through the confusion by recognizing syntactic data regardless of how it is rendered -- upper or lower case, etc.

Steam 3.10 also features "persistence in XML," which Plusch said represents complex data structures and logic in an efficient manner, and local execution, which supports the deployment of local Web application servers.

Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst of XML and Web services research firm ZapThink, said products like Steam and languages like Water could gain traction among major vendors like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems or IBM because Web services deployment is still very nascent.

"Sure, the larger platform vendors might be the appropriate choice for mission-critical, interdependent systems that require communication with EJBs, COM components, and other "legacy" formats, but many of today's Web Services implementations are still very much in the early stages -- mostly prototypes, proofs-of-concept, and limited roll-outs," Schmelzer explained.

"They are trying to get Web Services deployed properly, and as such are very experimental in the way they build apps. Having a way to rapidly build and deploy Web Services apps through Steam might be compelling."

However, his colleague, ZapThink senior analyst Jason Bloomberg, isn't so sure folks are buying into the allure of Water just yet. He acknowledged the new features were nice, but nothing earth-shattering.

"What's a much bigger question for Clear Methods than new features or performance enhancements is the adoption of Water as a programming language," Bloomberg said.

"If Water doesn't reach its tipping point and achieve broad acceptance in the developer community, then it won't matter how well Steam performs or how many features it has. Unfortunately, there's no clear indication that Water is gaining the throngs of developers it will need to survive as a language -- which in turn casts a dark shadow over the prospects of Clear Methods and Steam," he said.

Clear Methods boasts such customers as Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, which uses the startup's software for its mobile, distributed computing architecture for the company's products.

The Steam platform includes the Steam IDE tools, editor and the Steam Engine runtime environment. The Steam IDE Basic Edition is $39 per user, while the Personal Edition is $295, the Professional Edition is $995, and the Enterprise Edition is tagged at $1995 -- all per user.

There is also a basic, nuts-and-bolts version that is free. The Steam runtime engine sells for $25 per port, or unlimited Steam ports for $5,000 per CPU.