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Last year, Scientific American magazine featured an article on how agricultural researchers in Maryland had developed a recycling technology to turn chicken feathers into composite materials that could be used to make a wide range of plastic and paper goods. By binding the feathers with various other agents, the fibers could be fused into products ranging from diapers to polymer film.

With a small stretch, this story might serve as an analogy for software development in the 21st century--programmers tying together the functions and workflow of disparate applications into a single umbrella interface without interfering with the underlying applications.

While composites in the materials world go far beyond chicken feathers, of course--encompassing materials such as aluminum, ceramics, epoxy, fiberglass and wood--it's a term that has barely entered the lexicon of software developers.

Recently, however, Sean Fitts, president and CEO of CrossWeave software, used the term "composites" to refer to the Web-based interfaces created with his company's new integration product, CrossWeave, which was launched in June. Fitts defines composite interfaces as an automation of the user inputs required to complete one task by accessing multiple Web application interfaces, such as when a customer rep has to manually access three separate CRM applications to obtain customer information and then input that data into a fourth application.

The company's XML- and Java-based product accomplishes this via a business rules repository and an application proxy that sits between the end user and the various applications that he or she accesses. The collection of applications is presented as a single application to the end user, with the formerly manual interactions (e.g., looking up information, inputting it into another application) incorporated as automated "macros." The application proxy acts as a traffic cop, intercepting inputs and responses from the user and the various underlying applications.

Web-to-Web Integration

CrossWeave and Fitts are not the first to discuss the notion of integration at the user input level, however. Namaya Technologies' Namaya Server is aimed at automating user tasks between Web applications, such as automating the manual data entries between CRM and financial applications, as well as integrating the data and functions of one Web application into another.

A third product, iSpheres Corp.'s MetaApp Framework, enables developers to create automated, composite applications by monitoring events--both human inputs and application events--across different systems. One feature of the iSpheres Framework is its Normalization Engine, which provides a way to turn human-to-machine interactions into automated workflow "components" that can be assembled into a new application interface.


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