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Zaplet Makes Java Jive...with an E-Mail App Called “Appmail”
Zaplet Makes Java Jive...with an E-Mail App Called “Appmail”

(March 28, 2002) - One of the more interesting J2EE applications in evidence anywhere at JavaOne comes from Zaplet, Inc. - whose recently appointed chief marketing officer George Paolini may be familiar to Java developers from his days at Sun Microsystems, where, for many years, he helped create the environment that allowed developers a whole new way to work, namely the Java Community Process.

The next logical step for him, he says in an exclusive interview with SYS-CON Radio at this week's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, was to try and help the business community to think in the same way. So in June of last year, he joined Zaplet, Inc. - whose CEO Alan Baratz was once president of the Software Products & Platforms Division at Sun Microsystems.

Now, with Zaplet, Paolini is equally proud to be involved with a company that, in his view is pioneering a functionality that hasn't yet been delivered anywhere in the marketplace. That functionality has been packaged into an offering called the Zaplet Appmail System 2.0. Paolini describes it as an entirely new way to create and deliver collaborative applications for streamlining and managing business processes, and at JavaOne JDJ's editor-in-chief, Alan Williamson, asked him to take us behind the scenes technically.

"E-mail has been around for 30 years," Paolini explains, "but I think this is the first time anyone has ever actually thought about delivering an application via the e-mail inbox."

"What we do," he continues, "is to take over the e-mail inbox container, use the SMTP connection, establish an HTTP connection back to the server - which is our application sitting on a WebLogic server or any other application server - and the connection is essentially just HTTP back to that server."

So really Zaplet Appmail isn't delivering anything to the e-mail inbox, it's allowing the application to be accessed via the e-mail inbox, but the application resides on the server itself.

"The important thing about Appmail," Paolini explains, "is that it is an asynchronous collaborative product right in your e-mail in-box." In other words the data residing in that application can be changed, and the changes will be available to those you're working with. "So schedules, survey tools, approvals, tables, access to a specific URL, can be viewed by all the recipients who are accessing that application."

It works with existing e-mail clients, he says - Netscape, Outlook Exchange, and Lotus Notes being the three predominant ones - and can be installed by what Paolini calls a "power user" (someone who knows what he's doing, but not a programmer).

Paolini uses the example of a simple business process: interviewing a new employee. "Now what you might do today is send out an e-mail to 8 or 10 people who are supposed to interview that candidate, saying hey we've got this candidate, looks kinda good, can you interview him, and after you've interviewed him can you let me know what you think? And you end up with a thread that is maybe 30 or 40 e-mails long - saying yes they can, no they can't interview the prospective employee - an asynchronous discussion that has no central repository to deal with it."

Instead, here is what Appmail does: "You send out just one Appmail, and in it you have all the components that you need to deal with interviewing this prospective employee. You'll have a scheduling tool, you may have a survey building block that says whether you like this candidate or not, you'll have a discussion building block where you add your comments about this person, and so forth. And as the interviewers are talking with this candidate, they will input their information which everyone else will see as it gets updated. Whenever you call up that application, you have the most up-to-date information in that application at that time."

Where exactly does Java fit in, asks Williamson. "Well, there's no Java on the client, it's just HTML - preferably dynamic HTML. It's a J2EE application, the Java is all on the server side," says Paolini. He believes that the Zaplet Appmail is a breakthrough in terms of the process of development. "Business users can define the application via these building blocks, and developers will then be able to see where there's a need for new functionalities. They can spend more time doing what they really want to do, which is coding."

The 2.O release of Zaplet Appmail can be used for more than just standalone applications, Paolini adds, it can also be used in a more integrated way, involving the back end. Again, he argues, "the advantage is that developers will be able to spend more time thinking about how to provide functionality that business users want and less on presentation, on how that functionality is going to be presented."

What kind of a personal challenge does he get out of his CMO role at Zaplet? "What got me up and going in the morning at Sun was creating an environment that allowed developers a new way to work. That was a lot of fun, it was fun creating a sense of community. So the next logical step in that evolution is getting business users to think the same way, separating the business logic from the process logic, in a way that's providing the business users with capabilities that they haven't had before and providing developers with capabilities that they haven't had before. I think we're going to see some pretty interesting things happen in the market."

One of the biggest untold stories about e-mail, Paolini concludes, is that, "We have unwittingly created one of the largest repositories of unstructured information in the history of mankind."

When users can archive and catalog that information, the problem of e-mail in the enterprise may be solved, and managers will, to a certain extent, regain control of what has become a grassroots effort to distribute enterprise information to individuals. "At the end of the day," he says, "we all need to make a business out of this, and if you leave a company, who's going to know where your information is stored?"

That information resides, after all, on corporate servers, says Paolini. With Appmail, he clearly believes, enterprise e-mail might gradually move beyond this chaotic cycle and its value be returned to the corporate fold.

LISTEN TO GEORGE PAOLINI AT JAVAONE. Click here.

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JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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