J2EE Voices Ask If Success Is Spoiling JBoss

It's been a good news/bad news run lately for JBoss, the "Open Source" version of the J2EE-based application server. Over the past few weeks, JBoss has been on a roll attracting sales, developers and software partners. But, JBoss' success has also attracted criticism from developers, customers and even Sun Microsystems. IDN looks at the latest with JBoss, and speaks with Sun execs concerned that JBoss, despite its success, is still not J2EE compliant.

Tags: JBoss, J2EE, Developers, Open Source, Test Suite, BEA, Compatibility Test,

It's been a good news/bad news run lately for JBoss, known as the "Open Source" J2EE-based application server.

Over the past few weeks, JBoss has been on a roll -- attracting sales, developers and software partners. Notably, JBoss said it had received a high-profile contract from General Electric to replace BEA WebLogic. Moreover, JBoss signed alliances with two European software firms to help it expand the JBoss platform to support portals (with abaXX Technology of Stuttgart, Germany), and transaction and messaging for distributed computing (with Arjuna Technologies of Newcastle, U.K.).

But, just as JBoss looks to break onto the stage as a core software package for enterprise applications, it's also attracting criticism from of a number of core Open Source developers, at least one of its customers, and the owner of the J2EE brand, Sun Microsystems.

A growing number of Open Source developers are concerned that JBoss may be blurring the line between Open Source and commercial software by offering "profit sharing" to developers that contribute code to the JBoss codebase. The company has already offered cash bonuses, and even stock options, to 37 developers, according to TheServerSide, a J2EE portal. Developers posting comments on TheServerSide are roughly split for and against the plan, but the dissenting voices are especially audible. One posting called JBoss management "hypocrites," adding, "This is just part of your master plan to make money off of free work." See dozens of comments on this issue.

And, as for the coup at GE? JBoss came under some pressure there, too. A number of analysts told IDN that JBoss took some heat for from GE "fopr exaggerating" the win. One source told IDN, "JBoss did not replace BEA at General Electric. That was a rumor. They were merely added to the developers' bag of tricks. I know that GE was very mad their name was used in that way."Nonetheless, initial word of the deal caused an abrupt one-day slide of 10% of BEA's stock price.)

At Sun, meanwhile, the big concern is that JBoss is misusing the J2EE brand, and thereby misleading developers. IDN spoke in depth with SRick Saletta, group marketing manager, J2EE Licensing, at Sun, about those concerns.

"What JBoss is doing gives me heartburn," Saletta told IDN. "The JBoss Group LLC is intentionally misleading J2EE developers and all Open Source developers by writing J2EE all over their website and saying they're J2EE compatible," he said. Saletta specifically noted that JBoss has failed to implement key J2EE "methods," which will affect portability and compatibility with other systems.

Saletta said that he would welcome JBoss to take the J2EE certification test, but was concerned that talks between JBoss and Sun were not proceeding at a rapid enough pace. The full interview appears below.

IDN Interview with
Rick Saletta, group marketing manager, J2EE Licensing
Sun Microsystems

IDN: It seems that JBoss' recent success, without the need for J2EE certifcation, has you and Sun concerned. Is that correct?

Saletta: What JBoss is doing gives me heartburn. The JBoss Group LLC is intentionally misleading J2EE developers and all Open Source developers by writing J2EE all over their website and saying they're J2EE compatible.

IDN: And JBoss is not compatible with J2EE?

Saletta: They say [JBoss products] are not compatible because Sun wouldn't give them the test suite. Under the previous licensing arrangement, they [JBoss] couldn't get the test because it was tied to source license. That was an issue; however, that is no longer the case.JBoss was the first OS group we offered the compatibility test license, and it was not accepted.

IDN: In a recent story, one Sun exec called JBoss a "standards renegade." Is that an accurate quote, and if so, what does the term mean?

Saletta: All J2EE licensees are working from a common web services standard for Java. JBoss is doing their own thing. They're the only Java company working in a different theatre. We want the public to know we've offered JBoss a chance to work with Sun, and JBoss is not taking it.

IDN: Given the impasse, what's your Best Case Scenario?

Saletta: That JBoss licenses the J2EE compatibility test suite. We have about 400 engineering years put into this test suite. Think about the cost -- it's a very valuable asset.

IDN: Are conversations at least continuing?

Saletta: Conversations are always ongoing.

IDN: Any progress?

Saletta: I would like to see JBoss move toward compatibility at a faster rate, for the benefit of all developers, compatibility with the rest of J2EE licensees and work with a common web services standard.

Inside the JCP's Open Source Rules
IDN: Let's talk a little bit about how the JCP changed its rules to better work with Open Source firms. What's the status of J2EE certification licenses vis-à-vis Open Source?

Saletta: In the beginning, when you became a J2EE licensee, you got the source code, reference implementation and the compatibility test suite, and when you passed the test suite, you got the brand. At the time, this was sufficient for major commercial licensees. In the past year or more, Open Source has picked up a lot of steam; particularly with the [slowing] economy, a lot of corporations are looking at a model where they don't have to pay for software until later. A year ago, Sun made commitments to Apache, the most successful Open Source project out there, to make Java compatibility more accessible to OS companies.

IDN: This change arose out of JCP 2.5?

Saletta: Yes. That commitment resulted in working together in updates to the JCP [Java Community Process]. Under JCP version 2.5, it's now possible to separate the licensing of the source code from the licensing of the test suite. Before, there was only one license.

IDN: And what's the significance of that "split" off of licensing source code from the compatibility test suite?

Saletta: With one license all of the Java community members would contribute [pieces] back to the Java community, and the source code kind of belonged to the Java community. So that meant we had licensing obligations to those companies and we couldn't just take the source code "over the wall" and open it up.

What we've done is separate the compatibility tests suite so that Open Source can have access to the compatibility test suite for Java without necessarily combining the source code base, so an Open Source vendor that has Open Source license "X " can remain in their current licensing status, and the Sun won't violate their license status.

IDN: Is JCP 2.5 a big-enough step, in your view, to appease many of the issues presented by the Open Source community to the JCP?

Saletta: Everybody voted to move the {Java] community process to JCP 2.5, after which Apache was pleased with that result. As far as Apache, it pleased them enough that they joined JCP. I think we have Apache consensus, though I can't give you a quote from them.

IDN: What is specifically available now to Open Source organizations that want to obtain some sort of Java license of certification?

Saletta: We are now offering separate license for source code and test suite. The very first license to be available is the J2EE 1.4 compatibility test suite license. The first major under JCP 2.5 is the J2EE 1.4 compatibility test suite license.

IDN: I thought the final draft of the J2EE 1.4 was delayed until this summer?

Saletta: Yes, the FCS [First Customer Shipment] will be available early this summer, but the test suite license is available now.

IDN: Let's go back to this "over the wall" issue you spoke of, referring to releasing elements of code to the Open Source community. Is that really that controversial?

Saletta: We don't want to get locked into licensing terms, you build a product, throw it over the wall and suddenly -- you find out you just made public something that was proprietary from another company. That's the case we could wind up in, with the shared contribution in the Java community. We want to avoid that; we're being very diligent.

IDN: Does that mean the test suite will include the web services elements (which J2EE 1.4 is being delayed for)?

Saletta: The test suite [available now] includes the JAX APIs and compatibility tests with WS-I's web services are being tested for. What we're working for in the Java community in conjunction with WS-I is web services integration standard. This is a very important step forward that all members of the Java community believe in. It's also very important for developers.

IDN: So you're saying that JCP says it's important that Java/J2EE be able to interoperate with Microsoft .NET technologies?

Saletta: WS integration and synchronization is a very important part of J2EE 1.4. You've got Microsoft and you've got Java. It's very important that that the web services integration standards outside MS are not fragmented so that we [Java providers] are able to compete as a community.

The Offer to JBoss Rebuffed -- Sun's Viewpoint?
IDN: What is the specific offer to JBoss?

Saletta: I am in a confidential nondisclosure agreement to JBoss.

IDN: Why the confidentiality, if the feud is about "openness" and is so important to the Java community?

Saletta: That's just standard practice in any corporation.

IDN: But this is about an open deal to an Open Source company. Shouldn't that be public?

Saletta: Let me put it this way: The confidentiality agreement prevents me from releasing proprietary information, and that includes the pricing and negotiations.

IDN: Why do you think JBoss hasn't accepted your offer?

Saletta: I believe the reason is if they [JBoss] were to run it right now, it would not track.

IDN: Well, in fairness, wouldn't JBoss have trouble passing because for all this time, they've been building their app server in the dark, without the benefit of seeing documentation and tests, etc?

Saletta: Well, if you look at the number of J2EE licensees from large to small companies, everybody has passed. You wouldn't expect that on the first turn, of course, but you would expect them [JBoss] to take [the test], get some help, and pass it in a very short amount of time. Instead, they're misleading developers about being compatible with J2EE. You would think they would be excited about that and all over that.

IDN: So you think there's a technical reason why JBoss is not taking the test? Do you know places where JBoss is not compatible?

Saletta: They've been claiming the only reason they are not compatible is because Sun would not give them the test. They have gotten a lot of mileage out of the media out of making Sun the bad guys, and positioning themselves as David in a David and Goliath battle. That's not what we want it to be. There are J2EE methods they've chosen not to implement.

IDN: Which methods? What is the impact on developers of these non-standard methods in JBoss?

Saletta: There are two methods I am aware of to date: One is: the javax.resource.cci.InteractionSpec fails to extend the interface java.io.Serializable. Two, additional methods [JBoss has implemented] in the Java Mail API lead to failures.

IDN: What are the symptoms of JBoss' incompatibility with J2EE? What should developers be aware of that might affect their systems?

Saletta: If you're using JBoss in the IT shop to develop an application and find that the product does not meet your growth requirement, and you want a more scalable product such as Sun One, Macromedia, Borland, BEA or IBM. And your application is not as portable as you'd hoped it to be, you'll find you may not have implemented all the required J2EE techniques. Portability of apps is the underlying value prop of J2EE, which is why I'm so intent on clearing up this mess.

IDN: Well, are these terms only for JBoss, or are the terms you are offering good to any Open Source company? Say I start an Open Source J2EE firm, shouldn't I be able to know what kind of terms I could get to pass certification?

Saletta: Let's say you did start your own Open Source company, and Sun makes you an offer on something we sell for 20-30x. We make an offer [to you] at X or 2X; you don't want those terms to float to the public.

IDN: I guess not.

Saletta: If you were about to bet all your company's IT on an app server company that doesn't have a small nominal amount of money in the bank, you should be fired.

IDN: Isn't it possible that many developers are working in small shops, and aren't as concerned about portability or compatibility? JBoss has been very public on the issue.

Saletta: A large number of JBoss customers and members of the media and developers do not realize that JBoss is not J2EE compatible. JBoss has done everything possible to mislead developers and create the implication they are J2EE compatible.

IDN: Nonetheless, there still seems to be a large amount of grassroots support, especially lately, for the JBoss platform, and their pricing, wouldn't you agree?

Saletta: We've got well over a million enterprise Java/J2EE developers, and JBoss are sharp guys. JBoss has claimed to have a very commercially successful year, running revenuesout of BEA. And we would like them to work on the same standard. That's even more important to Open Source developers to move forward with web services development and deployment.

I have a lot of respect for the people at JBoss. The problem is that they see no reason to buy the cow if you can have it for free. They've gained a lot of momentum, and have aligned themselves with corporate J2EE. But, in the long run, [their approach] leads to their own separate development platform, and that leads to fragmentation [in Java], and that is not good.

No Deadline, No Threats -- Just a Plea to Converge
IDN: Does Sun or the JCP have a policy statement on the improper use of J2EE? Isn't it up to Sun to protect developers against misrepresentation?

Saletta: There is no official external policy statement. I have to be honest with you, I'm actually very busy educating engineers and evangelists at Sun who have seen the JBoss website and think JBoss is J2EE compatible.

IDN: Is J2EE a brand or trademark that should be protected by forcing JBoss to take the test or remove it from their website?

Saletta: J2EE is a trademarked acronym, owned by Sun.

IDN: If JBoss doesn't take you up on your offer, will you legally enforce proper use?

Saletta: I'm afriad you need a legal quote there. You know I can't go there. It's in the best interest of all developers that JBoss become J2EE compatible.

IDN: Well, is there a deadline?

Saletta: None at all. Very simply, I'm just starting to inform developers in the world that JBoss isn't J2EE-compatible and that JBoss does have access to the J2EE compatibility test suite if they choose to, and that we would be very excited to list JBoss as a J2EE-compatible vendor on our J2EE compatible vendors list.

IDN: What is a developer to take from this overture to JBoss if there's no deadline or no other enforcement?

Saletta: When I look at this stuff, I was always told to follow the money. The truth of the matter is if JBoss were to become J2EE compatible, that would in no way increase a revenue stream to Sun Microsystems. It would prevent fragmentation in the Java community, and that's what we're trying to protect. There is no money to be made from this [for Sun].

IDN: Things must be pretty sour between Sun and JBoss for this issue to have gotten so public.

Saletta: I am very unhappy I have inherited a tiff with another Java company, frankly; one that has shown some success. What I would like to see is this resolved. I believe that JBoss is acting improperly. I believe they are misusing our trademark, and I believe that JBoss is misleading developers, including Open Source developers. If JBoss has 1 million developers, how many of them think JBoss is J2EE compatible?

IDN: Why is this so important to Sun? Are you so concerned that JBoss' incompatibility could unravel other vendors' commitment to meeting J2EE compatibility?

Saletta: What members of the Java community need to understand is the more the members can speak with one voice and implement the same set of standards, the larger the market is. The J2EE market has grown exponentially in the past few years, so too will enterprise Java could continue to grow if we can work with the same competitive, compatible standards.

IDN: Is Sun having private discussions with other J2EE licensees (BEA, IBM, etc.) to make this JBoss issue more industry-wide, and not simple vendor-to-vendor?

Saletta: No.

IDN: The more skeptical among us might suggest that the timing of this concern is a bit suspicious, given JBoss' recent press announcement that it has been kicking BEA's butt.

Saletta: I wouldn't be spending so much time on it on Sun's paycheck if it were just BEA. JBoss says they are kicking BEA's butt, and stealing BEA's revenue and marketshare. At the same time, they're publicly complaining about the pricing for the J2EE compatibility test suite. Which is it? If JBoss doesn't have what they've publicly said is in the bank, what are they in this game for?

IDN: You sound a bit frustrated.

Saletta: Here's what gets my goat: [JBoss execs] say, "Give us something we need and our customers want, and we'll pay for it" -- something to that effect. They're basically saying that their customers are not demanding J2EE brands -- but if their customers don't care about J2EE, why do they put J2EE up all over their website? You can't have it both ways. You can poach the fruit, but just because you don't get caught doesn't make it right.

IDN: So Sun is the "cop on the street," so to speak, on this J2EE certification issue. Don't you need some teeth in the enforcement? I don't see what JBoss has to lose in just keeping things the way they are, with no penalty in sight.

Saletta: I think that's fair. I just want developers to know the truth. We've just gone through a downsizing year, and JBoss has gotten a lot of attention. Developers need to know which products are compatible and which are not.

IDN: If JBoss doesn't accept the offer, or take down its J2EE promotional language, is there a Plan B?

Saletta: There is no Plan B -- there's just Plan A.