The Secret is Out

After a much publicized courting, JBoss has become engaged, but to someone else. Nonetheless the chase was a bit fun while it lasted. In fact, just about anything about JBoss president Marc Fleury is amusing because of the way he has personalized his venture's David and Goliath saga.

But make no doubt about it, this is serious business. As we noted several months back, although sentiment is hardly unanimous, open source is a business, not a Robin Hood crusade.

While Fleury went on baiting folks like IBM in public, his quest to make JBoss the next dominant Java platform was deadly serious. A couple months back, the rumored suitor was Oracle, which has started its own open (or to borrow a term from BEA, blended) source strategy. While we could imagine Fleury et al wanting to cash out, we had a hard time imagining how JBoss would have stayed relevant inside Oracle, where it would have been another side show.

Although JBoss and Red Hat follow different open source business models (see onStrategies Perspectives,, we think this one's a much better fit because JBoss becomes Red Hat's de facto middleware stack, rather than just another piece.

For JBoss, this is of course the natural exit strategy for any up and coming startup that's hitting the wall. For Red Hat, it's another piece in the puzzle to become the de facto platform alternative to Microsoft. We wouldn't be surprised if database was next on Red Hat's list, as analyst Brenda M. Michelson of Patricia Seybold Group ventured.

Or as fellow analyst Keith Harrison-Broninski ( suggested, it's another step in the Microsoft alternative building itself into another Microsoft. He suggested that in the short run, developers would embrace this deal, but he's worried about the implications for the long run. We agree with part of his sentiments.

As we've noted previously, the popularity of open source isn't because it's open source, but because it's a way for customers to acquire commodity technology for a commodity price. Admittedly, as open source powers like Red Hat bulk up their spread and penetration, there's always the question of vendor lock-in, which in turn leads to price escalation.

But somehow we doubt that here. Recalling the argument of Sun's Jonathan Schwartz about Red Hat forking Linux and other open source technology, the open source community pretty well debunked that myth. The binaries might be protected, but not the source code. OK, that's a geek argument. But at a more important level, if Red Hat got too big for its britches, we'd expect IBM to up its ante in Novell or buy SuSE outright to keep Linux commodity which is exactly what customers want. Heck, it's already done that with Gluecode, built by several former JBoss developers, although for now IBM has largely kept it caged for fear of undercutting their WebSphere franchise.

Red Hat has had a checkered history when it's come to acquisitions. One of its best was the acquisition of Netscape's LDAP directory when AOL was divesting the technology in the late 90s. But it also wrote off four other acquisitions in the post 9/11 funk of 2001.

But we think this one's more in the Netscape Directory mold, in that it adds an obvious piece to the platform. And it bulks up what will hopefully remain a commodity alternative for enterprise customers.

About the Author

Tony Baer is a Senior Analyst at Ovum, covering application lifecycle, SOA, and IT Service Management. Tony is a well-published IT analyst with over 15 years background in enterprise systems and manufacturing. A frequent speaker at IT conferences, Baer focuses on strategic technology utilization for the enterprise. Baer studies implementation issues in distributed data management, application development, data warehousing, and leading enterprise application areas including ERP, supply chain planning, and customer relationship management. As co-author of several books covering J2EE and .NET technologies, Baer is an authority on emerging platforms. Previously chief analyst for Computerwire's Computer Finance, Baer is a leading authority on IT economics and cost of ownership issues.

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