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ColdFusion: Article

CFDJ: The Fifth Year

CFDJ: The Fifth Year

Four years is a generation in Internet time; in the life of ColdFusion Developer's Journal and ColdFusion itself, it marks an epoch. As we celebrate the new year and the beginning of CFDJ's fifth, here's a look at where we've been and where we may be going.

We'll focus on some of the CF milestones in that time, and recall some instances perhaps best forgotten. We'll also highlight key resources that have matured. Overall, we hope this retrospective can serve as a checkpoint to put the past in perspective and bring the present into focus.

This marks my 33rd article in CFDJ; looking back through the previous 32 provides a ColdFusion timeline of sorts. My first article appeared in the second issue, and I've been a "regular" ever since. CFDJ has attracted many fine contributors over the years, among them, Ben Forta and Hal Helms, who have written even more articles than I have.

Four Years Ago This Month
What were you doing four years ago? Some of us had been using ColdFusion for a couple of years or more, while others were just getting started with HTML. Some hadn't even used the Web yet, while others were still in school. Perhaps some were programming in other languages like Visual Basic, PowerBuilder, Java, or even on the mainframe.

ColdFusion was already going strong by January 1999. Indeed, we were celebrating the recent release of ColdFusion 4 in the first issue, with Richard Schulze's "What's Different About ColdFusion's Version 4.0" (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/article.cfm?id=4).

Perhaps the most significant aspect of version 4 was its focus on enterprise performance and scalability, with the introduction of native database drivers, load balancing and failover, server sandbox security, CORBA support, and more. These were all elements of the new "Enterprise Edition" of ColdFusion.

Gone was the "Workgroup Edition," though users of the "Professional Edition" would also gain scalability features (trusted cache, query caching, the ability to store client variables in data sources or cookies rather than the registry, enhanced multithreading, and more) as well as enhanced security in the form of the new Basic and Advanced Security models.

At the time, Jeremy Allaire, in an interview with SYS-CON Radio, said, "With this offering we were able to support dozens of large dot-com customers handling millions or tens of millions per day, and had a couple of the top 10 holiday e-commerce sites deployed."

I continued the discussion of the new release in my follow-up to Richard's article in the second issue, "ColdFusion 4.0: More on Developer Enhancements" (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/article.cfm?id=22). Other new features that debuted were structures, exception handling tags, WDDX, switch/case processing, CFSCRIPTing, a syntax checker, and lots more.

ColdFusion Studio also received a major upgrade in its version 4 released about the same time. Some of us lauded the new interactive debugger and benefited from it for years, while others never seemed able to get it to work for them. It also introduced one-step deployment, the codesweeper tool, style editor, and more.

Before you conclude that Versions 4.5 and 5 were the only changes of import until MX, note that 4.01 of CF and Studio soon followed and introduced additional features that many may have missed. See my "Hidden Gems in 4.0.1 - What You Might Have Missed," at www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/article.cfm?id=81.

Version 4 marked another turning point: it was no longer to be referred to as "Cold Fusion Application Server," but simply ColdFusion. No space, no "application server." Many today still seem not to have gotten the memo (there really was a document explaining this) and continue to slip into calling it CFAS. Sadly, it wouldn't be long before we'd also say goodbye to the classic ColdFusion "fist" logo that many of us loved so much.

All this was part of another momentous occasion that took place in January 1999: Allaire completed its initial public offering. Of course, Macromedia would acquire the company exactly two years later. If you're curious about what sort of things happened in Allaire's history leading up to that point, you can see a timeline of Allaire milestones at www.macromedia.com/v1/company/milestones.cfm.

Reaction to the merger has been mixed and varied in the two years since. Like so many things, some see it as a win while others decry it as having compromised some essence of their memory of "the Allaire days." Frankly, I prefer to just move forward and appreciate the many good things that have come about since the merger.

Speaking of mergers and acquisitions, another one took place that year that may have barely registered a blip on the radar screens of most CF developers. It was in June of 1999 that Allaire acquired Live Software and "some product called JRun" that could "run JSPs and servlets." Little did we realize that this acquisition would mark the beginning of the transition of ColdFusion to a Java platform.

With ColdFusion releases 4.5 and 5 in the meantime, we benefited from continued refinement and extension to the platform, tag set, and functionality. But clearly no release was as momentous as CFMX.

The Techniques, the Articles
CFDJ has been there through it all, with articles explaining seemingly every facet and technique of ColdFusion development. Some of the many frequently discussed topics have included (see Table1):

And much more. Of course, all the current hot topics in CFMX have been covered this year, including:

  • Web services
  • Components
  • Flash integration
  • XML processing
  • Java integration
Interestingly, those last three topics (and some others) that are now tightly integrated in CFMX have been available for some time, and there are articles going back to Volume 1.

This is a good point for us to recall some of the highlights of the four years of articles. Of course, no such retrospective could do justice to all the fine contributors and great topics that have been covered.

We can't start with anyone other than Ben Forta, Macromedia's senior evangelist, who's written more articles in the magazine than anyone else (46), sometimes more than one per issue. Indeed, he's missed only a single issue, in April of this year, which was probably at the height of publication of his three Reality ColdFusion books, or the update to his CF Web App Construction Kit, or the Advanced CFMX App Dev book. Clearly, Ben's a busy guy, and we're glad to have him on the team.

Hal Helms comes in a very close second, with 40 articles. As a leader in the Fusebox community, most of his articles have covered facets of that, but many readers will also recall his adroit use of classic quotes and erudite references to Mark Twain, Aristotle, Zen Buddhism, the Screwtape Letters, his father's ministerial influence, his past in carpentry, Tipping Points, and so much more. Whether you care to learn about Fusebox, you'll almost always learn something about life from Hal.

I'd like to single out a couple of other writers who've put together some multipart series that delved into valuable details for readers who stuck it out over the months! Guy Rish's "Cold Cup O' Joe," an eight-part series on CF/Java integration served as a great foundation, especially coming as it did before MX and showing the possibilities then that are as useful now. David Gassner's recent three-part series on XML integration in CFMX was a real tour de force in helping developers get started and go the extra mile at the same time.

Similarly, Simon Horwith has now written nearly a dozen Tales from the List columns, highlighting the best of the CFDJ mailing list (more on that later), and Bruce Van Horn has logged more than two dozen Ask the Training Staff columns, where he provides answers to common questions asked of CF instructors.

This seems like a good time to point out that if you would like to explore all these past articles, there are a few ways to do so. First, you can view the titles of all past articles at the archives (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/archives.cfm), and can even read many of the feature articles for free (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/features.cfm). If you want to search for some text or a name, see the search form on the left nav bar of each page on the CFDJ site. At the bottom of the search result page from that, you can also perform a search by author.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, you can now get all four years on a single CD, 450 articles organized into 23 "chapters," searchable as well. You can order the CD online at www.jdjstore.com/colrescd.html. Makes a great gift!

Gone But Not Forgotten?
Not every topic we've covered (or that CF developers have explored) has led a long life. A trip down memory lane would be remiss if it didn't present a few topics that have come, and mostly gone, in the life of ColdFusion:

  • Allaire Alive
  • ColdFusion Express
  • Java graphlets
  • Kawa
  • Netegrity SiteMinder
  • SMIL tag pack
  • Spectra
  • Starbase Versions integration
  • VRML
Of course, back in 1999 we were fretting over something that really turned out to be a nonissue for most, it seemed. Remember Y2K?

One topic that some may have dismissed but has since made a bit of a revival is Crystal Reports integration. The improvement in this case stems as much from improvements in the underlying Crystal tool itself.

Finally, another topic that may have seemed to become a moot point soon after 1999, but has also experienced a revival, is the Netscape versus IE debate. With the recent improvements implemented by the Mozilla organization, some find that IE is being tested, if not bested.

What's in a Code Name?
This time of reflection also seems an apt opportunity for a little diversion, to consider some of the code names that have been used for various products and betas in ColdFusion and related product history. I don't claim this to be a complete (or completely accurate) list, but it's fun to reminisce:

  • Dharma (was a planned Spectra 2)
  • Harpoon (dynamically generated Flash from CF)
  • Harvest (server monitoring features shipped with CF 5)
  • Kojak (Dreamweaver MX's beta code name)
  • Neo (CFMX's beta code name)
  • Nirvana (was a planned Spectra 3?)
  • Nozome (JRun 4's beta code name)
  • Pharaoh (overall initiative including Neo, Harvest, Tron)
  • Pharaoh studio (planned IDE that would combine Studio/HS/Kawa)
  • Tempest (Spectra 1's beta code name)
  • Tardis (Spectra 1.5's beta code name)
  • Tincan (Flash Comm. Server's beta code name)
  • Trinity (release that was said to eventually follow JRun 4)
  • Tron (XML/Web services/B2B features that made it into CFMX)
  • Velcro/DuctTape (Dreamweaver UltraDev's beta code name)

    If you can think of others, feel free to share them with me, or enter them in the comment area on the online version of this article at www.sys-con.com.

    Community and Resources
    I think if you ask most CF developers what the key is to their personal development, success, and ability to solve problems when working with ColdFusion, they'll point to the community. It seems that from the beginning, CFers have been able to rely on each other and benefit from the tremendous community of developers (including CFDJ authors) and the resources that were enabled by Allaire and Macromedia.

    Speaking of community support, 1999 was the year of the first DevCon, or Allaire Developer Conference, in Boston. It was the first of a long line of great conferences, as a great coming together of the CF community and a celebration of everything ColdFusion. But it wasn't actually the first ColdFusion conference. Several of us had gathered in Fort Collins, Colorado, in July, 1998 for the first "national CF conference," where speakers included Allaire founder Jeremy Allaire, chief architect Sim Simeonov, yours truly, and several others. Clearly, the ColdFusion community was taking shape on a larger scale by 1999.

    In actuality, the community was already well developed in many ways, both online and in the form of local user groups, the oldest of which was the DC ColdFusion User Group run by Fig Leaf Software. I was working there at the time, and with folks like Steve Drucker, Dave Watts, and others sharing knowledge each month, there were often a hundred attendees at the meetings.

    User groups have continued to thrive and you can find a local one (for ColdFusion or for other Macromedia products) at www.macromedia.com/v1/usergroups. There's also been a growth in regional events, both organized by Macromedia and run by developers. These include CF Europe, MXDU, DevCon Japan, CF North, Denver TechCon, MXDC, CFUN, CF Underground, and many more, including some attempted and still planned cruises. You can find most of these events listed at Michael Smith's "CF Conference Central" at www.cfconf.com.

    Of course, not everyone lives in a city with such an active user group or event. Fortunately, there have always been plenty of online resources to help developers support themselves. In fact, I reviewed them in my March 2000 (Vol. 2, issue 3) article, "Helping Yourself - Resources for Learning and Getting Questions Answered," at www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/article.cfm?id=91. Most of the resources I described then are as valuable today.

    Perhaps the greatest self-help and community resource is the Macromedia ColdFusion Forums, at http://webforums.macromedia.com/coldfusion. Hundreds of messages have been traded every day for several years, and there are currently more than 60,000 messages that have been posted! (See Figure 1.) The forums may be overwhelming in their depth, and clearly no one can read and respond to every message, though Team Macromedia members (like myself) try to help where we can. More than anything, it's just another great example of developers helping each other. And the search facility allows you to find the proverbial needle in a haystack when you need it.

    Of course, not everyone enjoys Web-based forums, preferring mailing lists instead. The king of those is the CF-Talk, run by longtime CF maven and community leader Michael Dinowitz. With hundreds of messages traded per day, you can sign up to receive them by e-mail or simply read them online at www.houseoffusion.com/cf_lists. Indeed, there you'll find several other lists including active ones on CF-Flash, CF-Linux, CF-Jobs, SQL, JRun, and lots more. Other valuable mailing lists include our own CFDJList (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/list.cfm) as well as those of several user groups that nearly always welcome non-locals.

    Still another, more recent means by which enthusiastic developers share their knowledge with others is the "blog," or Web log. These generally take the form of a diary of discoveries and observations. You'll find them offered by Macromedia employees, user group managers, product developers, and others, including my own at http://cfmxplus.bloqspot.com. One of the best places to find most of them both listed and aggregated (so you can read them in one place) is Geoff Bowers' www.fullasagoog.com. Don't worry about the name (it's explained there). Just go fill yourself with CF (and other MX product) goodness (see Figure 2).

    An equally valuable resource is the Macromedia Knowledge Base, www.macromedia.com/v1/support/ knowledgebase/searchform.cfm, where several hundred TechNotes are offered on a huge range of topics. They go back to 1996, and it's fun to see what issues troubled folks then that may or not bother us now. The second oldest, TechNote 158 from November 1996, laments that cookies are not set on a page doing a CFLOCATION. Fortunately, it's been updated to reflect that this problem has gone away in CFMX. (We shouldn't say it was "fixed." You heard no announcement of it in the manuals or release notes, but good riddance nonetheless.)

    Macromedia has also invested heavily in its Designer & Developer Center, at www.macromedia.com/desdev, and it's become a valuable resource, with hundreds of articles covering CF and all other Macromedia products.

    Recently, SYS-CON (publisher of CFDJ and other fine technical journals) has created a new developer portal, http://developer.sys-con.com. Those familiar with theserverside.com or slashdot will recognize the approach. Once you register, you can contribute comments on the posted topics or even post your own. The first posted thread on a ColdFusion topic had nearly 60 replies in the first two days. It's not limited to CF topics, and it does indeed open the discussion to a wider audience than the number who might participate in the Macromedia forums, for better or worse. But it's a community.

    One final element of community, in the minds of many, comes in knowing who else leverages ColdFusion. We all know that it works well for us, but sometimes we're challenged to point to any examples of large and/or highly visible organizations that use it. Back in May 2001 (Vol. 3, issue 5) I wrote, "Who's Using ColdFusion?" (www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/article.cfm?id=271) where I identified several such organizations. Of course, it's been more than 18 months since then, but the list remains mostly accurate. Indeed, I've since learned of more such sites and keep that updated list on my site at www.systemanage.com/cff/who_uses_cf.cfm.

    Technologies and the Future
    We've seen how many things have changed in the past four years and how CFDJ has been there for you. More important is how much Allaire, and then Macromedia, has been constantly watching the technology landscape to give us the solutions we need, often before most of us knew we needed them!

    Of course, they've always responded to the needs of developers and organizations relying on ColdFusion. The addition of support for Unix platforms and Apache integration are examples, as are the advancements in version 4 to make CF more scalable, performant, and secure. But they quickly moved forward from there.

    In 2000, Allaire released their Technology Roadmap (still available at www.macromedia.com/v1/documentcenter/ partners/allairebusinessplatform1.pdf). In it, they described their efforts that laid the groundwork for what would become ColdFusion 5 and MX, including those aforementioned "code name" projects for XML and Web services integration, Java integration, server management, and more.

    Beyond that, we see that CFMX has introduced the concept of component-based development. On the surface, this may seem to some to be merely an extension of modular programming design, but those who are leveraging it to approach object-oriented development may find more reward. They'll certainly lay the groundwork for those who follow. The IT world in general is moving in the direction of component-based, as well as service-oriented, architectures, so these are more great examples of how Macromedia is positioning us to take advantage of this trend.

    Macromedia's not only following the IT trends, but is also setting them. By now everyone reading this should be aware of the great power of Rich Internet Applications, as enabled by Flash, Flash Remoting, and the Flash Communications Server. For some, the Flash interface and platform may seem a daunting prospect, but as more developers become familiar with it and offer their own interpretations of how developers can get started with it, we'll see it become a more common tool in the kits of most CF developers.

    Other examples of Macromedia bringing developers into new ways of working include Dreamweaver MX and the more recently released Contribute. Many CF developers scoff at these tools thinking they don't really apply to them. And they are new and may change in time to better suit CFers. Again, I think you'll see more and more people helping each other learn how the tools can apply or, in some way, take a load off CF developers.

    With respect to all these "new" topics, we absolutely welcome contributions for articles by developers who feel they have something to offer. As we've seen before, the CF community learns best from each other. Be part of the solution!

    Conclusion
    We've touched a bit on how ColdFusion, the community, and the technologies we use have continued to change and improve in the past four years. They'll continue to change, of course. That's the only constant.

    CFDJ has changed as well. You may have noticed the new look we took on with a graphics redesign in recent months. Another change is that Raymond Camden and I were recently appointed as technical editors. We aim to constantly improve the technical quality of the magazine. Here's to a great year five! Now on to writing my 34th topic...

    SIDEBAR

    ColdFusion Ship Dates

    Have you ever wondered what the ship dates were
    for the various major releases of ColdFusion?

    1.0:   July 1995
    2.0:   November 1996
    3.0:   July 1997
    4.0:   November 1998
    5.:   June 2001
    MX:   May 2002

  • More Stories By Charlie Arehart

    A veteran ColdFusion developer since 1997, Charlie Arehart is a long-time contributor to the community and a recognized Adobe Community Expert. He's a certified Advanced CF Developer and Instructor for CF 4/5/6/7 and served as tech editor of CFDJ until 2003. Now an independent contractor (carehart.org) living in Alpharetta, GA, Charlie provides high-level troubleshooting/tuning assistance and training/mentoring for CF teams. He helps run the Online ColdFusion Meetup (coldfusionmeetup.com, an online CF user group), is a contributor to the CF8 WACK books by Ben Forta, and is frequently invited to speak at developer conferences and user groups worldwide.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Neil Robertson-Ravo 01/14/03 06:40:00 AM EST

    here are some others....

    > Pickford : Dreamweaver 2
    > Fairbanks : Dreamweaver 3
    > Foster : Director MX
    > Columbo : Contribute

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