JBoss vs IBM spat--an opening for Microsoft

JBoss CEO Marc Fleury is spittin' mad these days. His target: IBM. For five years, Fleury has seen his company grow rapidly by selling support and other services around JBoss open-source application server software. This is the market pioneered by BEA Systems and now led by IBM--software for powering Web sites and integrating enterprise applications with one another. By offering basic application-server capabilities at a very low price, JBoss disrupted the commercial market, putting downward pressure on prices. Now IBM is giving him a taste of his own medicine. No wonder he's mad. And no wonder he's now cozying up to Microsoft.

Here's what happened. Back in May, IBM acquired a tiny startup called Glucode, which sold a suite of application server software based on the open-source Apache Foundation's Geronimo project. In addition to rolling Glucode into its software group, IBM also threw its support behind Geronimo. IBM markets Glucode technologies to small- and medium-sized businesses--which is not JBoss' main target. But, by backing Geronimo, IBM bolster's JBoss' main competition in the open-source sphere. "IBM has decided to react quite aggressively, trying to slow our momentum," Fleury told me during a recent visit to BusinessWeek.

He claimed that IBM hasn't slowed his company down. Ninety percent of JBoss' 500 corporate customers have come on board in the past 10 months. But he's irritated at what he claims are IBM's attacks on the bona fides of JBoss as an open source project. "IBM says we're not pure open source, we don't let others participate. But that's not true. Having IBM sit around and tell me what open-source is all about is irritating." Fleury says. He claims that 30% of the JBoss application server code comes from outside programmer volunteers. IBM wouldn't respond to Fleury's claims. "We don't think that's an interesting discussion for customers," says a spokesman.

Well, Fleury isn't just mad. He's getting even. On Sept. 27, JBoss and Microsoft announced an alliance that's sure to get IBM's hackles up. The two will enhance interoperability between the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System, a suite built around the application server, and Microsoft's Windows server products. There will be more to come. "This is a first step. It says the operating systems is not the enemy," says Fleury. "We're not a pain for Microsoft. We're a pain for IBM."

The tie-up also shows how Microsoft is gradually recognizing the need to live in a world where open-source software is a fact of life. Don't expect Office to run on top of Linux any time soon. But Microsoft's plays in the open-source world are worth watching. As are fissures between open-source stalwarts like JBoss and IBM.

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