Tcl Devs Wave Goodbye to Scriptics and Hello to Ajuba

by Cameron Laird

"Yeah, sure it's good, but can you make a living on Open Source?" Industry observers ask that every day, particularly in the wake of recent LinuxCare and Corel turmoil. Ajuba Solutions, formerly Scriptics, is out to model a happier answer.

A week ago, on May 22, a press release from Scriptics Corporation announced its reconstruction of itself as Ajuba Solutions, Inc. Reaction from the engineering crowd that favors the Tcl scripting language at the heart of Ajuba's technology was swift and nearly unanimous: the "suits" had taken over, and the consequences for Tcl would be dire. This, in turn, surprised Ajuba employees, who expected applause for a move they had designed to improve community relations. How did such a divergence arise, and where will it lead?

A decade of gluing

This isn't the first move for Tcl. John Ousterhout originally created it in the late '80s while a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Then, it was often called an "extension language," to emphasize its role within other existing programs.

Tcl has expanded and mutated in many regards. Through all the changes, though, Ousterhout has nurtured its character as the best "glue" available, that is, as a language unsurpassed for connecting together outside resources.

One example: his first substantial project with Tcl, called Tk, has become an indispensable and highly-regarded graphical user interface (GUI) toolkit outside Tcl that's uniquely portable across MacOS, Unix, and Windows, among other operating systems (OSs). Tk is so successful at tieing into "native" GUI resources that several other languages, including Perl and Python, use it as their standard GUI toolkit.

During the second half of the '90s, Sun Microsystems created a new division that employed the Tcl development team. Early in '98, Ousterhout spun the group back out of Sun as a standalone company designed to sell Tcl products and services to the business community. With him as chief executive officer (CEO), it appeared to enjoy operational success, with a well-received training section, several development contracts, and a couple of product lines.

The first released product, TclPro, is a professional quality development and support framework for Tcl that has received warm reviews. The second, whose name changed last week from "Scriptics Connect" to "Ajuba2," is a considerably more specialized business-to-business (B2B) application server with much higher margins and a longer sales cycle.

A continuing challenge through Tcl's history has been to distinguish clearly the differing interests of Ousterhout as the language inventor, the successive organizations which have employed him and the core Tcl development team, and the user community. There's nothing unique about this; similar questions arise for Java, Perl, BeOS, and CORBA, for example. What seems clearest is that Tcl has generally been growing through it all. More books appear on the shelves, download traffic from principal sites increases, the Usenet newsgroups which discuss Tcl grow in volume every year, and so on.

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