JBoss: A Model for Future Software Companies

Monday Mar 25th 2002 by Piroz Mohseni

An open-source application server that can host business components developed in Java is raising a fuss in the J2EE world, because it doesn't conform to the standard corporate business model. Why are people afraid of it?

Consider the following scenario. A group of talented developers from around the world get together and develop an application server based on the J2EE specifications. They do a pretty good job with the code and architecture. There are thousands of downloads of this application server. It serves the needs of people who are new to the J2EE world and are looking to learn the technology, as well as those who need a quality J2EE application server for a production environment. So why would the J2EE industry perceive this as a threat? Why would Sun not test it for J2EE compliance?

Piroz Mohseni

This is the story of JBoss, an open-source implementation of J2EE. While initially the industry was enthusiastic about an open-source implementation of J2EE (something .NET didn't have), now that is has come for this open source project to bear the fruits of their hard work, the industry is backing away. Despite all the different spins, the reason is very clear. The model followed by JBoss is dangerous to the bottom line. Free, open-source implementations of technology are in conflict with high-end software packages sold by many of the so-called "friends" of open-source development.

Linux was good because it was competing with Windows. Star Office was also good because it competed with Microsoft Office. The various little packages like an XML parser, a compiler, a servlet engine, etc. were also good because they kept programmers busy away from Windows development. But what happens when we have an open-source application server? What happens if there is an open-source database directly competing against Oracle? And heavens forbid, what would happen if there are actually open-source J2EE applications built on top of these platforms?

We are seeing a glimpse of what would happen, and it is not encouraging. The same bunch who file lawsuits so Microsoft provides the source code to its technology turn away from an open-source implementation of what they really would like to be a proprietary implementation!

The vendors are confused, and it is imperative that they wake up and face the problem. The model followed by JBoss has great potential to work and most likely will be followed by many more projects. JBoss has established a consultancy base as its profit center. You get the software and the source. If you can do everything yourself, fine, but if you need help, that is available and you pay for it.

If open-source allows you to increase the quality and usefulness of your software, then why hesitate?

Sounds like a good model? Unfortunately, the big corporations are also confused. On one hand, they desperately want to cut costs given the current economic situation, and they constantly complain about the high price of enterprise software and its implementation and support costs. On the other hand, they look at the software vendors as someone who can be later blamed if things don't work out.

While open-source software addresses the first issue (i.e., cost), the perception is that it doesn't address the second issue. The model advocated by JBoss satisfies both needs. The software is free and, by having a consulting contract, the IT departments now have someone to blame if things don't work out.

Big software companies are concerned, and they should be. Open-source was good competition against their competitor, and it didn't really compete with their own high-end software. That situation is about to change. Sooner or later, as more and more IT departments appreciate the value of the new model, the momentum will start to change. It is time to accept what is real and try to work with it, not against it. There are still ample opportunities to make money. Provide a good piece of software that solves real problems, provide quality support for it, and you shall find customers. If open-source allows you to increase the quality and usefulness of your software, then why hesitate?

About the Author

Piroz Mohseni is founder of Bita Technologies, focusing on business improvement through the effective use of technology. His areas of interest include enterprise Java, XML, and e-commerce applications. Contact him at mohseni@bita-tech.com.

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