Sep 25

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Zimki, hosted JavaScript environment

Zimki is a hosted JavaScript environment with an interesting business strategy. They quietly went live a month ago and then launched last week at EuroOSCON. Zimki comes from the Fotango team that was purchased by Canon Europe many years ago.

Zimki is designed to handle many of the mundane tasks of developers and allow them to get to the important, unique part of their application. As they said in their EuroOSCON session they host the developer's application, back it up, monitor it and scale it - so the developer doesn't have to. They handle logging, groups, users, session management, CAPTCHAs, and search around an object (and everything is an object). This is all bonded to the permission system and each object knows its permission settings. They have begun populating their documentation and sample apps and code.

At this point in time hosting Zimki applications on Fotango's servers is free. Fotango's plan is to always make development and usage for less popular applications free. They only plan to charge when an application's usage reaches a certain storage, bandwidth or processor threshold. There is more discussion about this on the Zimki site.

They have two issues that will initially turn off (some) potential developers, but they recognize these and are working to fix them. One, currently applications must be on the Zimki domain. This is acceptable for development, but no serious application builder will want to introduce the world to their product on the Zimki domain. The other is that their co-los are all in Europe. They will expand in time, but right now North American developers (and users) should expect an extra lag. I'm sure that they will update their blog (built on ZImki) as these are fixed.

Next year Fotango is going to open source the Zimki platform. This serves several goals. One, by open sourcing the platform they are able to alleviate developer fear of platform and hosting lock-in. Don't like hosting with Fotango? Move to your own server or a competing Zimki-hosting provider. Two, Fotango is architecting the Zimki platform to be able to call on other Zimki installations for capacity. They want developers to create a network of Zimki servers as this will only increase the total capacity of the "Zimki Grid". Zimki servers will be able to put capacity back into the grid via Fotango (who will handle the billing and payments for all parties). Third, they are built on Open Source and this is an opportunity to give back. They rely quite heavily on SpiderMonkey, Mozilla's JavaScript engine among other OS projects.

When I first heard about Zimki I thought of Ning (see Nat's post for background); they are both hosted development environments that aim to host and make money from the long-tail of web apps. They are actually not very similar. There are several key differences and the two companies are not in direct competition. Ning's goal is to become a large social network by supplying webservices for thousands of interconected (or at minimum ID-sharing) web apps. They promote easy replication of the apps by making them easy to clone. They are attempting to allow anyone to be the curator of their own web app. In Zimki, the developer can share webservices or code with others, but it is not a core focus of the service. Fotango is instead focused on making it easy for a developer to quickly build an independent web application that will be able to scale if it suddenly becomes popular.

As I've thought more about Zimki it becomes clearer to me that in many ways they are instead competing with development enabling and hosting services. Hosting companies and Amazon's EC2 and S3 are their competition - while at the same time making it possible for you to use those competing services on their own servers or on others'.

Fotango has some bold goals for its product and many challenges. It has to attract developers to the Zimki platform. It has to find a pricing structure that works. Fotango has to build the "Zimki Grid" components and a billing system for sharing capacity. I look forward to seeing this all happen for them.

tags: open source  | comments: 8   | Sphere It

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Comments: 8

  Alastair James [09.25.06 02:32 PM]

Hmmm... Its a good idea thats for sure. However, I have just been to the site and cant seem to find any set details about price. It says you get charged tokens for api calls. Does anyone know how much a token costs?

No clear pricing information is always a big turn off!

  Nick L [09.25.06 06:48 PM]

I'd have to disagree about Ning not being a competitor. While the sharing of code might be different, they are both after the same market (developers who want to quickly develop webapps). That's a very small market (compared to - say - people who want to blog).

If we take the 1% rule as a fact, then what percentage of the population actually want to (and have the skills) to create services? I'd be guessing 0.001% maybe? To at least some extent trying to get those developers to use a platform like this is a zero-sum game - most developers will choose only one platform and stick with it.

  Dominic Mitchell [09.25.06 11:27 PM]

A minor point; they first came out of the woodwork at d.Construct '06'.

  James Duncan [09.26.06 05:16 AM]

Alastair: at the moment there is no pricing, because we're not selling anything. In order for us to really understand how much usage is required to develop a piece of software we want to see how developers are using it. As more developers start picking up the platform we'll be able to get a good idea about how many tokens a day we should provide for free to each developer, and also how much a token should cost.

Ultimately other people will be able to compete on token cost by providing cycles into the grid. Something that for-fee installations (like Fotango, in this specific case) will have to deal with is that their/our cycles need to be better than the for-free cycles that can also be provided. We know that not having clear pricing at the moment isn't ideal, but our intentions are honorable rather than insidious.

As we know more we'll talk about it in our blog.

Nick: you're right that if you focus on the development aspect Ning looks very much like a competitor. In many ways Ruby on Rails, or (to take the idea perhaps too far) other compilers like gcc could be regarded as competitors by the same reckoning. Perhaps that is an oversimplification, and I'd certainly agree that there is an overlap between the two, but we do think that the the platform aspect of Zimki is just as important as the development aspect.

Keep in mind that a consumer is buying computer cycles. A consumer could license (OS license or otherwise) a piece of software (perhaps a blog?) written by a third party for the Zimki platform and install it elsewhere (including on their own machine).

  johnny [09.27.06 02:20 AM]

I'd have to disagree about Ning not being a competitor.

  Mike Schinkel [10.23.06 11:34 AM]

Can you fix your blog so it prints more than one page in FireFox, please???

  Mike Schinkel [10.23.06 11:36 AM]

Oh, also can you fix it so it doesn't cause a script error when trying to print in IE6!!!

  Jon Rahoi [09.25.07 03:39 AM]

looks like they're done - I just got this email:

"We regret to inform you that the Zimki service is to be withdrawn and therefore will no longer be available from 24 December 2007."

"As of 24 December 2007 all applications and data remaining on the Zimki service will be deleted and the servers decommissioned. Users are advised to move their applications along with any associated data before the closure date. There are no plans to opensource Zimki."

too bad - i have been looking for something like this for a long time. I tried using it, but it was cumbersome. Then I tried to switch to a self-managed setup with Helma, which is equally arcane.

Can't we have a JavaScript web app that uses modern JS objects and conventions? And one which a dummy can set up? I had high hopes for Zimki. Oh well - my wait goes on...

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