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Softcom: Streaming Video with Enhydra™ XMLC

While a number of websites show video today, only those powered by Softcom can integrate the full variety of interactive elements made possible by the Internet. Softcom, a leading video Application Service Provider (ASP), combines such elements as real-time text and data streaming, annotated video, video and text searches, e-commerce, chat and rich advertising, together within a single display to bring cutting edge technology to their clients. This breakthrough technology, MediaPlatform™, embeds and synchronizes Java™ applets within streaming video.

"We make video the central point of navigation," says Chris O'Brien, President, COO, and co-founder of Softcom. "We make the video the browser while synchronously displaying all relevant information and functionality - keeping the viewer engaged within a dynamic interactive environment."

A Business Challenge With Enhydra Results

Being on the cutting edge of video application development, it is essential to Softcom's success to deploy robust solutions focused on enhancing customers' experience with video. Softcom's services include providing best-in-class hosting, content creation, and engineering.

In the world of creating interactive video solutions, Softcom knew that creating a pay-per-view website would require a sophisticated back-end that could hide the complexity of doing transactions and managing customers' accounts.

One of the many challenges Softcom faced when developing MediaPlatform was to ensure cross-platform capability - and not in the traditional sense. Softcom found early in development that its customers wanted to support traditional PC and Macintosh clients, and also explore the CD-ROM market for foreign and library sales. This led Softcom to think carefully about structure within the content production process so that the presentation layer of the application could be independent.

Enhydra's technology, Enhydra XMLC, is a unique compiler that transforms XML documents into a Java class by creating a W3C-standard Document Object Model (DOM). Using Enhydra XMLC, designers are free to make updates and even more significant changes in HTML, WML (Wireless Mark-up Language) or other XML-derived languages, without requiring rework from Java developers. Similarly, Enhydra XMLC's use of the DOM allows developers to make changes to back-end code without disrupting the presentation layer.

Since quality, robustness, customer service, and speed to market are critical to Softcom's success, it's no wonder they created MediaPlatform with Enhydra in mind from the beginning. It was the unique Enhydra XLMC presentation technology that made Enhydra the definitive choice for Softcom. With Enhydra XMLC the company was able to create content presentations for display on wireless devices, set-top boxes, and other platforms.

Video tutorial on the IEEE site built by Softcom.

"Without Enhydra XMLC we would not be able to deploy services and technology as fast as we needed to," says Richard Miller, Softcom's Director of Product Design. "XMLC put Enhydra over the top for us. XMLC truly enables the complete separation of presentation from business logic. We considered some of the major commercial application servers, but Enhydra met our criteria. When we realized we could run it behind Apache, and easily move it to other application servers as needed, we were sold!"

Another challenge was combining the servlet functionality. Softcom chose Enhydra primarily for the framework it provides on top of the standard Servlet API (Application Programming Interface). The Servlet API provides an elegant method for handling the http requests. However, to build a Web application Softcom needed to tie all of the servlets together. Again, Enhydra provided the necessary framework, simplifying servlet development.

Softcom found that Enhydra's features, like the presentation power of XMLC, made it easy for Softcom to create, modify and maintain their interfaces. Development cycle benefits included: design iterations, time-saving, and HTML browser testing prior to code base contribution. This allowed Miller's team, during a compressed schedule, to continue design later in the development process without affecting the coding. Being able to update the user interface templates during design iterations and then view the builds in a few minutes saved Softcom's team hours, and sometimes days, in each design cycle.

"Providing customers the highest quality products in the shortest period of time is always a challenge," states Chris O'Brien. "Enhydra allowed us to speed our development cycle to the point that we had working prototypes well ahead of schedule. Enhydra also provided a stable platform to add enhancements to the system within very short testing cycles."

The Value of Open Source
Finding an Open Source solution wasn't a prerequisite for Softcom's use of Enhydra, but its benefits became apparent as they moved farther along in the development cycle.

"Having access to the source made it easier to evaluate and we could better understand how the application worked," reflects Bill Thompson, Softcom's lead XML guru. "In addition, it was important for us to know that if we hit a critical bug or needed a particular feature, then we could either fix it or add to it ourselves. We actually built tools in Enhydra to help us manage the process and to build the content found on such sites as ieee.mediaplatform.com. All our tools for authoring multimedia content are now built using Enhydra XMLC."

Nilesh Shah, lead developer on the Softcom team, was able to make a number of changes to the Enhydra Open Source code and helped others within the Enhydra community, via the mailing lists, to incorporate Softcom's changes into their solutions. Nilesh mentioned that he, "…enjoyed and took advantage of the supportive environment that Enhydra created. It allowed me to use the Enhydra community as an extension of our development team."

XMLC & Streaming Video: A Successful Combination
Softcom developed the MediaPlatform application as an open platform for hosting a variety of 'pay-per-view' media services for clients. Because the user interface is created in XMLC, deployment for custom versions of the platform is easy - Softcom only needs to redo the HTML templates and compile.

"We are also using XMLC apart from Enhydra for the generation of Synchronized Multimedia Integrated Language (SMIL) content for RealPlayer," states Richard Miller. "The content for the ieee.mediaplatform.com site is all done using RealPlayer. Using the same model, we have SMIL templates that are compiled with XMLC. We have recently started exploring new development technologies for creating advanced video solutions and we expect XMLC to play a large role in that mission."

The Home page at IEEE.MediaPlatform.com.

Softcom's MediaPlatform is now a leading-edge electronic service that delivers annotated video presentations and tutorials, streaming over the web directly to the computer desktop for such clients as Home Shopping Network, HBO, Barnes & Noble.com, Showtime, E!Online, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The IEEE, the leading international professional society for 340,000 electrical and computer engineers, was the first customer to use MediaPlatform. The IEEE Video-On-Demand (VOD) branded web site is a custom version of MediaPlatform in action. This Enhydra-based solution creates new sources of revenue and services by presenting the IEEE's highly interactive technical and professional conferences, lectures, and training courses on-line, in a pay-per-view model. Members and non-members on the IEEE site can now access short courses from the top experts in the engineering areas of communications, computer engineering and networking, and software from ieee.mediaplatform.com.

As Kevin O'Brien, CTO and co-founder of Softcom put it, "Enhydra fits our model of taking advantage of cutting edge technology to give our customers the competitive edge they need in the marketplace. Our developers are given the freedom, time and resources to investigate, test and deploy new technologies. Enhydra XMLC is an excellent example of a technology that makes it fun to be in this industry."

The Softcom Team.

Softcom's Engineering Team
(from left to right - standing), Bill Thompson, Mike Mills, Kim Halsey, Kevin O'Brien, Richard Miller, Nilesh Shah, Seated - Thomas Meal (and the Softcom mascot "Borg").

Company
Softcom

Web Site
Softcom.com

Site Overview
Softcom is a leading video Application Service Provider offering end-to-end Internet video solutions with their branded technology, MediaPlatform™.
Launched in September 1999, Softcom's MediaPlatform is a leading-edge electronic service that delivers annotated video presentations and tutorials, streaming over the web directly to the computer desktop for such clients as HBO, Barnes & Noble.com, Showtime, E!Online, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Softcom has strategic relationships with Sun Microsystems, which markets Softcom's interactive video solution, and RealNetworks, which distributes Softcom's MediaPlatform product on its automatic update server.


Configurations
Servers:Sun E540 class machines in a server farm.
Platform: Apache, Enhydra, XMLC
OS: Solaris
RAM: 258
Wireless Capability: Yes




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