Deal Analysis: Red Hat, JBoss ... and MetaMatrix?

Red Hat's JBoss unloaded a spate of announcements this week. It announced its intention to buy Metamatrix to plug a key gap in its SOA strategy to provide data integration. That was the headline.

But it was the back story that snagged our attention. Namely that JBoss would now separate update schedules of its commercial product from the almost continual updates on its open source site. That indicated to us that the company was taking the last step to metamorphose from its early identity as rebel or threat to the established order.

Of course it was all a figment of founder Marc Fleury's imagination. Playing the role of enfant terrible-in-chief, he would often bait giants like IBM or Oracle (which was rumored to acquire JBoss before Red Hat swooped in).

But JBoss, and Fleury, has always had method to their madness. Make no mistake, Fleury's ramblings about being a band of a couple dozen developers taking on the Java industry was theatre (maybe not great theatre, but entertaining enough). Behind all that, JBoss was a business, not a social cause. And Fleury was intent on carving a sphere of influence, if not an all-out empire.

In that sense, there was a cultural similarity to Red Hat, minus the cult of personality.

Consequently, we have always viewed as having a different open source model than, say, the informal community that spawned Linux, or the foundation model of Apache. Although no vendor will admit it, vendor-sponsored communities like are created not out of altruism, but for mercenary purposes such as market development and adjunct R&D. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, not that there's anything wrong with that.

But this week's announcement of JBoss separating the .com and .org sides of its business indicated to us that the company was formally shedding its renegade identity in favor of something more ambitious: becoming claimant of the next enterprise development stack. Yes, contributions to .org will be encouraged, but the real business is providing enterprises stable releases on the .com side. Time to ratchet things down and gain sanity there.

And, although their technology is (or in the case of the proposed acquisition of Metamatrix, will be) open source, make no mistake, JBoss views Microsoft as its model. Microsoft may not have the best known partners in the universe (exhibit floors at the TechEd and Professional Developer conferences pale compared to JavaOne), but it has a huge devoted developer base that's not going away anytime soon.

That's exactly what JBoss is seeking. You may have never heard of Exadel, but if their RichFaces provides the rich client library that's missing, who cares what their name is. When we talked with JBoss's Shaun Connolly this afternoon, he spoke of borrowing a page from Microsoft's book, saluting them for the way they pamper developers.

If you had any doubt of JBoss's intentions, recall its announcement of its own development portal at EclipseCon last March. While other Eclipse plug-in contributors are tripping over themselves to lead Eclipse projects, JBoss is creating its own parallel universe. Officially it cites license differences: Eclipse uses Apache, while JBoss relies on GPL or LGPL prominent in the Linux community (not to mention its new parent company). But the ulterior motive is setting up a separate developer destination - JBoss just doesn't want to be one of them.

Announcement of the Metamatrix acquisition (which would add back end data integration) illustrates how far JBoss still must go in building that Microsoft-killer development stack.

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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