The JBoss Group LLC has been busy hiring the lead developers at various open source software projects in a move to grow its business with new service offerings.
One analyst said the new hires could boost the quality of the JBoss application server and, with the availability of new professional services, help to make open source more palatable to commercial customers. But some critics worried that the products would become tied to JBoss' software platform and lose their independence.
In its latest addition JBoss Group said it hired Gavin King, creator of Hibernate, a persistence engine for building Java applications. In the past six months it has also hired Remy Maucherat , lead developer of Tomcat 5.0, Bela Ban, creator of JavaGroups, and Julien Viet, developer of Nukes, said Marc Fleury, JBoss Group's founder and chief executive. Shigeru Chiba, creator of Javassist, has become a part time employee and will continue to teach at Tokyo Institute of Technology.
JBoss Group doesn't charge for its software, only for consulting and support services offered with it. With the new hires, the company hopes to expand its business by offering new services to commercial customers who use the open source programs, Fleury said.
"Our goal is to send a message to enterprise users," Fleury said. "We're saying that going with open source is now a safe choice, these guys are now working full time on the project, and they also have a place to turn to for support."
JBoss Group also plans to integrate the products more tightly with its application server. For example, Hibernate will replace the "aging" and "clunky" CMP persistence engine offered with the current version of JBoss, Bill Burke, JBoss' chief architect, told developers in a Web posting. JavaGroups, which is used by JBoss Groups for clustering, will also be integrated tightly with its software.
The moves benefit the open source community as well as JBoss Group, according to Fleury. The developers, most of whom maintained their projects in their spare time, are now being paid to work on their software, ensuring its continued evolution, he said. JBoss calls the model "professional open source." The programs will continue to be "platform independent, Fleury said, meaning they'll continue to work well with rival application servers from BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and others.
John Rymer, a vice president and analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, approved of the strategy. JBoss is trying to build out its middleware "stack" to make it more competitive with offerings from those larger vendors, he said.
At the same time, the availability of professional support services should help make open source software appear more viable to enterprises, Rymer said, since large companies are often reluctant to use products for which commercial services aren't available. He said JBoss Group has found a way to mix its own commercial interests with those of the open source community.
Most developers posting messages at TheServerSide.com discussion board seemed supportive of the moves, though one or two expressed concern the programs would lose their independence under JBoss Group's stewardship.
"It's a shame if these projects end up tightly coupled with JBoss and hence ... harder to use with other stacks," one developer wrote.
Forrester's Rymer said that's unlikely. JBoss relies on the support of developers who favor open source software to drive demand for its products, and Fleury is "too smart" to do anything that might alienate that group, he said.
"The risks are actually more longer term," Rymer said. "What happens if JBoss grows into a company with 200 employees they have to feed and a sales force? That might drive different business practices which might depart from the objectives of the open source community."
"The real question," he continued, "is whether this kind of change is necessary for open source to become much more viable in the commercial marketplace, and I think it is."
Clark, who heads the Hibernate project, said emphatically in a Web posting that his open source project will remain independent and not become tied to JBoss. He also suggest that new employment came just in time, saying Hibernate's success had been taking up "an enormous amount of time from my personal life."
"It is incredibly difficult to keep up with the huge amount of traffic in our forum, let alone find time for development, while at the same time holding down a 'real' job," he wrote. "Fortunately, we've now found a way out."