JBoss is not Linux

Posted by tadelste on Feb 23, 2006 7:12 AM EDT
LXer.com; By Tom Adelstein
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Most Linux people don't know much about JBoss, the open source firm reported in talks with Oracle about a $400 million purchase. That tops any free software deals I can recall. Novell paid $210 million for SUSE in cash. So, what about this JBoss company? They did it without any initial outside funding, generated revenue and self-funded and stayed true to open source 100% while selling services.

On Digg.com

In the emerging industry we call open source, finding people to emulate does not come easily. JBoss in particular, has demonstrated a successful commercial model, about which few Linux people know and fewer understand.

When I mention the name JBoss, I'm surprised at the lack of awareness open source advocates and some CIOs have about the project or the company. Yet, from what I gleaned from interviews and reviewing their products, JBoss succeeded as a business before it became a target.

On Freshmeat, you can find this description of JBoss:

JBoss is an Open Source, standards-compliant, Enterprise JavaBeans application server implemented in pure Java. JBoss provides JBossServer, the basic EJB container and JMX infrastructure, JBossMQ for JMS messaging, JBossMail for mail, JBossTX for JTA/JTS transactions, JBossSX for JAAS based security, JBossCX for JCA connectivity, and JBossCMP for CMP persistence. It integrates with Tomcat Servlet/JSP container and Jetty Web server/servlet container, and enables you to mix and match these components through JMX by replacing any component you wish with a JMX-compliant implementation for the same APIs. The goal is to provide a full J2EE stack in the Free/Open Source software world.

This description tells us that most traditional OS developers won't have much interaction with JBoss even though the company owns the market in which IBM's Websphere and BEA's WebLogic once fought each other for control of the J2EE application server space.

Despite the spin Scott Handy of IBM gave about JBoss being the little guy, don't you believe it. JBoss owns the enterprise space. Scott only wishes he had the strategyic vision of Marc Fluery, JBoss's street smart CEO.

How did an open-source company that gives away its product with an LGPL license and that allows developers to bundle, include and freely redistribute its software in their own products become the industry bell-weather? In answering that question, you basically answer what everyone has been asking about open-source software: How do you make money with a straight Free Software license?

Evolution of an Enterprise Open-Source Company

The figure below provides a visual depiction of JBoss's growth. I conducted an interview with Marc Fleury for an article in Forbes. I learned that as with most open-source advocates, he started the company in a garage, set up a project, attracted like-minded developers and strove toward building and releasing working software.

Courtesy of Shaun Connolly, JBoss

Unlike other open-source projects, however, Fleury began generating revenue by offering training and personal support. He worked to train developers to use his product and answered their questions when they ran into trouble. While providing an income for himself, he also established a community of interest that ultimately blossomed into a robust Open Source community.

Fleury's initial activities as a small consultancy may provide the point of delineation between JBoss and other similar ventures. In fact, my own success in business occurred when I began offering training, seminars and a lot of content about my products, waiting patiently for the business to develop.

Fleury solved the problem that we often hear about open-source companies and projects: He provided people with clear information on how to use the software and always was ready to help. Contrast that with projects in which you're expected to find information from mailing lists or forums--the same forums in which you are blasted for asking questions already answered in a previous thread.

Open-Source Challenges for Enterprises

The vast majority of open-source projects have had significant challenges that have caused commercial vendors to shy away from them. In speaking with open-source leads at Apple Computer, HP and IBM, each sited the inability to find someone in an open-source projects with whom to interface as the biggest business problem. Business people need other business people with whom they can interface.

And, that's only the start. Distributions such as Red Hat, SUSE and Mandriva have similar concerns when it comes to working with open-source projects. That's why some famous projects do not make it into these distributions. A cross section of concerns people have mentioned to me include a lack of:

  • adequate support and maintenance

  • continued innovation

  • visibility/certainty around product road maps

  • functionality/ease of use for IT managers, particularly across enterprise size environments

  • stable business models to fund new development and expand into new product areas

  • structured and scalable partner ecosystems devoted to enabling customer success

Additional concerns include projects becoming stale and misunderstandings and worries over intellectual property risks.

If you use the model that has evolved around JBoss, you should find that it contains normal open-source aspects, such as free licenses (under LGPL), source code, enterprise-quality software, observable quality assurance processes and a robust community. You also can find extended business offerings, including training, professional sales and support (24x7x365), indemnification, product roadmaps, management and quality documentation. Therefore, JBoss has become a staple at places such as Apple Computer and HP and major enterprises around the globe.

Open Source Maturity Model (OSMM)

In Bernard Golden's book, Succeeding with Open Source, he talks about something he calls an "Open Source Maturity Model". In his model he provides criteria for scoring mature organizations; they are software, support, documentation, training, integration and professional services. According to this model, those companies that provide adequate functionality in each of these areas can be scored according to the model.

In this article, Golden rates JBoss and provides an overview of the Open Source Maturity Model. He calls his model a product-independent methodology that architects/developers can use to assess the suitability of a wide range of Open Source offerings.

I applied Golden's criteria to several successful open-source projects, including the OpenOffice.org project, GNOME and Mozilla, and found them lacking in the six criteria. I also compared them to some Linux desktop distributions and found them equally lacking. Considering this, it does not surprise me, for example, that the Linux desktop has had some difficulty breaching the enterprise desktop.

I have one major disagreement with Golden's six criteria, however. I believe it should include the quality and quantity of an open-source project's community. Without community support, no open-source project can succeed.

Additional Observations

From an enterprise perspective, Golden makes a lot of sense. JBoss does stand out as a strong business, one on which people might want to model his or her own business. I would even recommend it to venture capitalists, those foul bottom feeders, who have made so many mistakes with open-source investments.

And although JBoss embodies the quintessential open-source model, we cannot ignore Red Hat, which also adequately covers the six criteria presented in Golden's model. One difference does exist, here, though. If Red Hat does not feel it can do an adequate job at something, the company refrains from offering it as a supported product.

In addition, we might want to use some caution when providing Golden an honorary knighthood. Some IT managers, enterprises and others may consider Doc Searl's Do-It-Yourself IT (DIY IT) theory to be an equally inviting concept. In Doc's model, the consumer becomes the provider, and in many organizations that's adequate. In fact, for many businesses, one could not provide the resources needed to build these businesses if he or she solely followed the Open Source Maturity Model.

Final Notes

I have a high regard for JBoss and wish more open-source companies would follow the JBoss business plan. I also have the highest regard for new and unfunded projects that start off like Fleury's EJB-OSS did, back in 1999. We can applaud the people who joined Fleury and made JBoss wildly successful. We also should applaud everyone who reaches out in an attempt to realize his or her own dreams and aspirations. Along the way, I hope these people become coachable and look for successful models to emulate.

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features; Groups: JBoss

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Gary Edwards post on Digg.com tadelste 0 4,188 Feb 23, 2006 1:09 PM
I'd like to add... number6x 1 3,200 Feb 23, 2006 10:18 AM

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