Fleury Q&A: JBoss Inc. Looks Beyond J2EE

In an IDN interview, JBoss founder Marc Fleury tells how he'll spend the $10 million VC he just received, including a project that he says will help him build JBoss into a for-profit umbrella for incubating Open Source projects, and push the company beyond it's J2EE roots. Hear also how VCs think JBoss' low-cost software model may disrupt BEA and IBM.

Tags: Open Source, JBoss, Open Source Projects, Developers, Customers, Partners, Support,

Last week, JBoss Inc., provider of an Open Source J2EE application server received $10 million in venture funding in a group led by Matrix Partners. But what does JBoss founder Marc Fluery, want to do with that money? And will VC investment water down the Open Source movement?

In an interview with Integration Developer News, JBoss founder Marc Fleury says how he'll spend the $10 million VC he just received, including a project that he says will help him build JBoss into a for-profit umbrella for incubating Open Source projects. Fluery also says that Open Source needs a "second generation" and that it's time to step away from the "pony tail" image of the poor developer. Read the interview:

IDN: Why did you think you needed to bring in outside VC investors?
Fleury: We were profitable since the beginning, so we're looking to accelerate our expansion. Having this [funding] allows me to take more risk. I used to put some of my own profits aside for new projects and new hires. Now I can accelerate my re-investment.
We also wanted to improve our liquidity for our employees, code contributors and stake holders. With these VC funds, we now have a focus in the company on liquidity so we can set up a structure of rewards.

IDN: What impact will this have on your customers?
Fleury: As JBoss penetrates the enterprise markets, for some of our customers and prospects, dealing with a small company that was not [publicly]-held was not reassuring. This funding will make sure that the company is viable and financially stable, which is what larger customers want. From my standpoint, I used to be anti-VC, and I didn't think I needed a VC. But with the addition of Bob Bickle [former GM of HP's middleware division and the founder of Bluestone], things changed for me. I wanted to bring in more experienced management into JBoss Inc.

IDN: So, the money is a way to further penetrate larger companies with JBoss?
Fleury: There are a bunch of people out there that [want] a pure Open Source software, or even purely free software. That [view] does not reflect the real view of the customer. What they want is simple: "One throat to choke," and in the view of some bigger customers JBoss was simply too small to be that. JBoss Inc. -- through new hires, new partnerships and [those] new Open Source tools/software we develop and sell -- will become big enough to be that "one throat."

IDN: Are you concerned that some Open Source advocates may be worried that your taking VC investment?
Fleury: I don't know why Open Source developers should all be with pony tails, and naked in the street like a poor poet or something. We are professionals and have been doing more for the professional acceptance of Open Source for the past five years. We should act like professionals. I want to contrast our Open Source approach at JBoss Inc from academic Open Source. There is a second generation of Open Source at the heart of it. Linux, Red Hat and SuSe are one generation outside the core academic work. In one way or another, each of these groups has a profit model, or is working with public companies to develop and distribute code. There is a second generation, starting with MySQL, which has created a for-profit status and retains a community of users and developers.

IDN: So, explain your vision for the VC-driven JBoss Inc. Sounds like it goes beyond the JBoss application server?
Fleury: I want JBoss Inc. to become an umbrella for many more Open Source projects. Too many amateur Open Source projects die on the vine. Like Apache in its heyday was an umbrella for non-profit Open Source projects, I want JBoss Inc. to be an umbrella for for-profit Open Source projects.

IDN: So, would you see Open Source projects migrating from Apache to JBoss as they matured, or as you became interested in them?
Fluery: Look at Tomcat, for example. JBoss developers easily contribute 40% of that code base [for Tomcat]. We will look at ways to commercially support Tomcat [among our customers] as a first step toward that model.

IDN: Do you want JBoss to emulate Novell's evolving model, where they have a stable of Open Source projects and make profit on the services and support?
Fleury: We need to first expand our toolkit. But, yes, the Novell approach [to Open Source] poses a good question for us, 'How do we achieve critical mass from a services point-of-view?' Right now, we are small, at 30 people, and we may grow to 100 developers and Open Source services technical staff. So, we won't be a Novell, but we'd build a network of Open Source support and services revenues through enterprise partners.

IDN: Like who, for instance?
Fleury:We're already working with Iona on some service integration partnerships with customers we both have on Wall Street. We also have a partnership with Slumberger in Europe and with Unisys here in the U.S.

NOTE: According to a November 2003 survey by BZ Research, use of JBoss outgrew all other Java application servers, doubling from 2002 to close in on leading commercial solutions. JBoss expanded operations with European headquarters in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and bolstered its developer ranks with the hiring of lead developers from popular open source projects Tomcat, Hibernate and JGroups, now supported by the company. To further strengthen its technology and deliver on the vision of Professional Open Source, JBoss also began offering 24X7 production support with indemnification for the application server and reached agreements with Sun Microsystems for J2EE certification. Even as JBoss gained popularity in the enterprise market, more and more leading software companies lined up behind JBoss, including Apple, Borland Software Corporation, IONA, MySQL AB, SchlumbergerSema, Sonic Software, Unisys and webMethods