Paying The Cost

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In the immortal words of B.B. King, Marc Fleury is paying the cost to be the boss.

As the CEO of JBoss, the France-born Fleury has already been on a number of roller coaster rides that would have sent a lesser soul into retirement.

Back in the day of the Internet boom, JBoss was the darling of the industry because it created a high performance application server that was relatively easy to deploy. But as the companies that sprung up in that era matured and more established companies began to discover the Web, both BEA and IBM usurped JBoss' role as the leading provider of application servers. They did this by convincing IT shops that the application server was the next platform that would protect them from the vagaries of operating system wars.

But along the way, two things happened that have led to the resurgence of JBoss. The first event has to do more with the miscues of BEA and IBM than it does the brilliance of JBoss. In the battle to differentiate themselves from each other, BEA and IBM loaded up their application servers with a wide variety of integration features. But for a lot of customers, those capabilities were not required and they only served to slow down the performance of their Web sites.

The second thing that happened was the steep economic downturn that caused everybody to re-evaluate costs, especially those around software licensing. Suddenly people remembered it was a lot less expensive to run JBoss than BEA or IBM, and when you combined that with performance concerns, suddenly JBoss was hot again.

In the meantime, Fleury endured his own tribulations, most notably the defection of a number of engineers to the Apache Group, which is now trying to create application server and database projects that will complement its well-known Web server platform.

Fleury, with a typical Gallic disdain, dismisses those efforts. But they do loom ominously on his horizon because IBM has made it clear that it tends to favor Apache over JBoss, especially now that JBoss has rolled out an impressive set of middleware modules on top of its application server that compete favorably with anything that IBM and BEA have to offer. Such a move, while welcomed by customers and developers alike, also earns JBoss a much higher position on the IBM official enemies list.

What makes JBoss compelling is that the JBoss stack can be deployed in a modular fashion, and customers only have to pay for the open-source-derived software that they actually use. This is due largely to the Lesser Gnu Public License Model that JBoss uses to sell its software, which allows customers to make unlimited copies of JBoss and customize JBoss without having to share those changes with the rest of the open source community (unless they distribute those changes to someone outside their company).

Just to make matters more interesting, the next thing Fleury will do is create an economic ecosystem around JBoss by creating an electronic marketplace for developers that have created applications that run on top of JBoss. This could be a potential bonanza for small developers and solution providers that have developed custom application development expertise in a vertical market.

Many of these developers find that managing and tracking licenses is more trouble than it's worth. In addition, gaining marketing visibility for their wares is prohibitively expensive. A vibrant JBoss marketplace would give them a comparatively low-cost route to market, while the JBoss licensing model creates a relatively simple pricing mechanism.

While large commercial ISVs are going to flee from any sort of open source licensing model, the growing acceptance of this model creates an opportunity for countless smaller developers to set up profitable shops focused on the needs of a particular vertical market, all of which would help drive adoption of JBoss middleware.

Clearly, JBoss has a way to go before it can make that vision a reality, but companies such as IBM, BEA and Microsoft should take note. The organization that unleashes the power of millions of small developers with vertical expertise in hundreds of markets is without a doubt the industry's next powerhouse. And before you know it, Fleury may very well wind up being the industry's next major boss of bosses.

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