Last month, Mike Loukides, a senior book editor for O'Reilly, wrote an editorial complaining that Sun has blocked attempts to have JBoss -- a popular application server based on the J2EE specifications, developed under the open source GNU Lesser General Public License -- undergo certification.
In that piece, Loukides called on Sun to "... establish a level playing field in which all Java developers, regardless of their funding or licensing requirements, can participate. Simply put: JBoss is an excellent piece of software; it's one of the best J2EE servers around, at any price. If JBoss is not compatible for legitimate technical reasons, fine. But if JBoss can't be certified because Sun won't test it, then certification is meaningless."
To look more deeply at this story, ONJava.com editor Steve Anglin conducted an email interview with JBoss' Marc Fleury, founder and lead developer, and Nathalie Mason, director of business development.
Steve Anglin: Why is it so important for JBoss to be J2EE-certified?
Fleury and Mason: JBoss has been an innovator in J2EE for a long time. We have a very close adherence to the specifications from Sun, and a long-standing history of cutting-edge quality code. Our codebase is used around the world in development and production. To further acceptance in the mainstream, it would be helpful if JBoss were officially backed by Sun. The J2EE certification is, in our opinion, the simplest way to achieve this.
While we have done without it so far and still managed to grow into the most downloaded app server in the industry, we feel that mainstream acceptance of J2EE would be enhanced by Sun's backing of JBoss. We also feel that being certified would help us compete against Microsoft .NET. Today we can afford this certification.
Anglin: When, if ever, do you think Sun will acknowledge and perhaps certify JBoss?
Fleury and Mason: A year ago the market was very different. Today Microsoft's .NET, a competing framework to J2EE, is making inroads. A lot of people approach us as JBoss consultants when they are evaluating J2EE vs .NET. Those companies are not even talking to the more pricey J2EE vendors. We see .NET as being for real, while others don't. We are seeing the beginning of market-share loss to .NET. We urge Sun to certify us and give us the backing and credibility to be succesful in competing against Microsoft as the entry-level J2EE offering.
Today, we are quite successful despite being on our own; however, an official backing would be a tremendous asset for us to protect the J2EE market against encroachment from the bottom. The record of companies standing their ground against Microsoft with proprietary technology, even free proprietary technology, is dismal. Only open source successfully gains and holds market share against Microsoft, with Linux and Apache.
Developers are already flocking to us, but to convince the business people, Sun must realize that the most efficient way is to come out and openly support JBoss. Every month that goes by, more people leave the J2EE camp for lack of a J2EE-certified, open source solution.
The JBoss Technology Conference will be held March 26 and 27 at the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company in San Francisco.
Anglin: Do you think that Sun and its primary J2EE vendors are engaged in anti-competitive practices and/or licensing agreements against open source J2EE projects such as yours?
Fleury and Mason: I think Sun's position on this issue comes across most clearly in an interview question the Serverside's Floyd Marinescu asked Bill Shannon (spec lead for J2EE) and Karen Tegan (director of J2EE compatibility) in January. Marinescu asked, "What is Sun's point of view in the debate over whether J2EE licensing restricts open source J2EE products?" Bill Shannon talked about Sun's support for open source. Karen Tegan qualified that position in the following quote:
At the same time, having a strong brand and compatibility standards are important to the development of a robust market for J2EE platform products, tools, and components. The "J2EE Compatible" brand has achieved significant momentum over the past two years, and we want to make sure that any open source efforts don't impact the viability of that effort.
The issue at stake is not technical compatibility. JBoss is very happy with Sun's stewardship of the J2EE specification, and we have been religiously following the specifications. Sun understandably appears concerned about protecting a lucrative high-end J2EE market. There probably is also some fear that certifying an open source implementation will compromise their control over the J2EE standard.
JBoss and JBoss Group -- the commercial entity that aggregates the JBoss developers to support the JBoss platform through consulting, support, training, and documentation -- desire a J2EE certification that is respectful of Sun's interests and investments in the J2EE platform, while at the same time being compatible with open source.
Anglin: In the context of interest and use by the open source community, where do you see JBoss going in the short-term?
Fleury and Mason: We are in the process of finalizing our new JBoss Group Software and Professional Services affiliate contracts. We took some time to make sure we do it right. It will take three weeks to finalize and publish on our site. It's a novel and revolutionary idea to enroll core developers in support, consulting, and training activities, and we will do it well.
We are not starting from scratch. We have already been using some of our core contributors for professional services. They have the legitimacy that comes from their work as JBoss open source developers. And guess what? They are doing a great job. They have the knowledge, and that knowledge is worth gold. We want to immediately scale up our services activity through our worldwide network of open source developers. Customers are banging on our doors asking for JBoss professional services. There is a demand; we will answer it.
Anglin: What about the long-term?
Fleury and Mason: Long term, the market is going to consolidate. Pragmatically speaking, we envision a market segmentation line much like the OS one, where Solaris, Windows, and Linux all coexist. We will see BEA/IBM/.NET/JBoss. So, long-term, if Sun wants to keep J2EE as a dominant platform, they will need us as a certified player.
Anglin: There has been much speculation of late regarding JBoss and Apache Jakarta. Could JBoss become a Jakarta project?
The 2002 O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference explored how P2P and Web services are coming together in a new Internet operating system.
Fleury and Mason: No, we don't see that happening. Jakarta is not an open source project in the pure community sense anymore. It is dominated by Sun/IBM employees. We are more focused on growing our own professional services organization through JBoss Group. As such, we form a hyper-efficient consultancy, where our open source product base enables us to achieve an unparalleled degree of efficiency in sharing and communicating knowledge. You may feel that our open source nature limits us here, but never when it comes to high-level knowledge. The ability to see and reproduce source code does not automatically give people the understanding of how it's used or how it can be optimized. If they do achieve that on on their own, that's great. For those who want more insight, we sell the services to get them there.
The second reason for our dissatisfaction with Apache has to do with problems in the 3.2 version of Tomcat (the new one is better). When those problems arose, we grew close to Jetty, a competing open source project backed by MortBay Consulting in Australia. We met these guys, spent time with them, and we found there were a lot of similarities -- they are a husband-and-wife-led company dedicated to their product because it is their business. It just happens that we relate better to people with goals and expectations similar to ourselves --dedicated independent professionals. JBoss Group is about supporting and promoting that way of life and work, which, in our opinion, is conducive to the development of great software.
Anglin: What are some of the other things that you have planned, going forward?
Fleury and Mason: Technologically speaking, JBoss is growing into a full-fledged application server. EJB is still core, but JBoss today is really a cutting-edge, services-oriented, JMX-based "general purpose architecture." It is used from high-end clustering environments to low-end embedded OEM ones. So we are going up and down the technology food chain: up as we offer a feature set that directly competes with high-end offerings and down as our modular nature and zero price make us very attractive in embedded J2ME-type offerings.
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