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IBM Updates Free WebSphere, Teams With Novell Against JBoss

IBM today announced version 2.0 of WAS CE (WebSphere Application Server Community Edition), its open-source Java server, set for release sometime later this year. IBM is also joining forces with Novell, which will offer support for WAS CE and distribute it along with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Though the combination is clearly aimed at competing
with Red Hat, it highlights open source's move further up the software stack, making free software a practical alternative to traditional application servers --- and perhaps more.

At the same time, IBM announced the millionth download of WAS CE 1.0, an impressive statistic considering the relatively limited customer base for application servers. Of course, downloading a free product doesn't equate to using it, but IBM also has real enterprise customers that pay for WAS CE support, and more than a thousand partners whose applications run on top of it.

According to an (Eclipse sponsored) report from Evans Data, WAS CE is gaining market share nearly three times as fast as Red Hat's JBoss. Of course, this could be because it started from a smaller base: Although WAS CE is built on technology that IBM acquired with Gluecode in 2005, it is essentially a new IBM product, whereas JBoss was already popular even before Red Hat bought it in 2006.

The growth of free alternatives to high-priced application servers is obviously good news for customers, but not necessarily for IBM. A large part of that growth has to represent users who would otherwise buy the regular version of WebSphere, and not all of them will want to spring for a support contract from IBM or Novell. However, SOA (service oriented
architecture) is making application servers less important anyway, threatening to reduce them to platforms for running standardized services while the higher-value integration functionality moves up to the stack to the service orchestration layer.

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