JBoss CEO Against Open-Sourcing Java

Marc Fleury, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based JBoss Inc., said recently that open-sourcing Java would be a "trap" into which Sun Microsystems, Java's creator and steward, should not fall.

April 28, 2004

4 Min Read
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One would think the president of the company that oversees the industry's most popular open-source Java application server would be in favor of open-sourcing Java technology. But Marc Fleury, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based JBoss Inc., said open-sourcing Java would be a "trap" into which Sun Microsystems, Java's creator and steward, should not fall.

Speaking on a panel of J2EE licensees at a J2EE 1.4 event in San Francisco Monday, Fleury said the main thing that has secured Java's popularity is its portability across different operating systems through compatibility requirements, and by giving the technology over to the open-source community, that portability could be compromised. It is the same argument Sun has posed for years as the chief reason it should retain its ownership of Java.

"I just don't see a net gain in open-sourcing Java," Fleury said. "The great success of Java has been Sun's stewardship and the implementation of the Java Virtual Machine. Keeping that portability is keeping Java [intact]. The standard has to be tightly owned."

Fleury made his comments at an event celebrating the release of J2EE 1.4, the latest standard for building enterprise-scale Java applications.

Observers noted that Fleury's show of solidarity with Sun was somewhat strange, as the outspoken open-source proponent publicly lambasted Sun last year because his company, then called the JBoss Group, had difficulty reaching an agreement with Sun over J2EE licensing. However, the two have made peace since then, and in November 2003, JBoss Inc., along with The Apache Software Foundation, became the first official open-source J2EE licensees.Not surprisingly, a Sun executive on the panel agreed with Fleury that open-sourcing Java, a move that was suggested by IBM in an open letter to Sun in February, is not the way to go.

"The overriding thing is that Java has benefited from the input from end-user customers, [who support] that high compatibility from Java and J2EE," said Jeff Jackson, vice president of Java software engineering at Sun, Santa Clara, Calif. "It's important to maintain that."

IBM's representative on the panel said the Armonk, N.Y.-based vendor is still in talks with Sun about the possibility of open-sourcing Java, but said he had no update. "We are in preliminary discussions with Sun," said Mark Heid, program director for WebSphere software at IBM. "That is where we wanted to start. When we have something more to say we will communicate that."

While Fleury may not have been in favor of open-sourcing Java itself, he does think it's a good idea to open-source other core technologies for building services-oriented architectures (SOAs). SOAs are IT systems comprised of business processes, data and other application components that act as services, which can be invoked by any applications in the system on an as-needed basis and used to create new apps on the fly.

For instance, Fleury suggested JBoss Inc. might release an open-source version of an enterprise service bus (ESB), a standards-based messaging engine platform that enables SOAs, at some point in the future. He also noted that business rules and workflow engines also might be "potential candidates of open sourcing."Panel members agreed that while the Java standards process hasn't always moved at light speed, it has successfully built a community of about 3 million developers. Currently, Sun oversees the Java Community Process (JCP), which creates and finalizes Java standards and is responsible for J2EE; the desktop Java spec J2SE; and J2ME, the standard for building mobile Java applications. The process has been criticized for moving too slowly, resulting in the inclusion of technology in commercial J2EE-compatible application servers that is ahead of the actual standards process.

"Maybe speeding [the JCP] up a little bit will be a necessity [in the future]," Fleury said.

Possible technologies that might appear in future versions of J2EE are requirements for including core SOA technologies in J2EE-compatible application servers. Some of those technologies could be the business process execution language (BPEL), an existing spec that gives developers a formal way to describe processes underlying business applications so they can be exposed and linked to processes in other applications, as well as other business process management (BPM) technology. Currently, several vendors--including IBM and BEA Systems--already provide the same or similar technologies in their application servers and related software.

To date, 34 companies have licensed J2EE and several--IBM, Sun, Oracle and Denmark-based Trifork, among them--already have J2EE 1.4-compatible application servers available. BEA, the top app server vendor next to IBM, will have a J2EE 1.4-compatible application server available this fall, although the company already includes most of the required technology in the new standard in its current version of WebLogic Server.

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