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
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
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
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
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."
Softcom's Engineering Team
The Softcom 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").
Softcom is a leading video Application Service Provider
offering end-to-end Internet video solutions with their branded
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.
Servers:Sun E540 class machines in a server farm.
Platform: Apache, Enhydra, XMLC
Wireless Capability: Yes
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