Red Hat: From Cuddly Penguin to Public Enemy No. 1

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-12-01

Red Hat: From Cuddly Penguin to Public Enemy No. 1

BERLIN—Marc Fleury, senior vice president of Red Hats JBoss division, sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft at the JBoss World conference here Nov. 20-22 and discussed a variety of subjects including increasing the Red Hat investment in JBoss R&D, evolving the JBoss code base and governance model, hiring, technology, and the Red Hat "cuddly penguin" growing some teeth.

Whats been going on with the JBoss folks for the last six months? Its been quiet.

Its been quiet. Its been a little bit too quiet for my tastes. So weve been working on the integration with Red Hat. Sales has been integrated. R&D hasnt been impacted, and were trying to grow this operation.

The integration was difficult work so far.

Click here to read more about Red Hats acquisition of JBoss.

Yeah, well, you know what your haters are saying …

What are they saying?

Theyre saying you guys just went to ground, that you just took the money and ran.

Well, the products that were putting out right now just prove this wrong. Theres been tremendous work on the AS [application server] 5 release in terms of clustering, the microcontainer being completely revamped to a POJO [Plain Old Java Objects] microcontainer that is state of the art and works on other platforms. Theres been a lot of work around the ESB [Enterprise Service Bus] effort and jBPM [Java Business Process Management]. Tom Baeyens [a JBoss core developer] is on fire with jBPM. And Gavin [King, a JBoss core developer] is on fire with Seam. This whole team is putting out some of the most exciting technologies in the Web landscape period, not just Java.

On the flip side, Ill say I went to Red Hat to get an investment in the JBoss R&D division to grow it quickly. That still really hasnt happened. Thats a bit of a point of frustration for me personally. But thats going to happen, because now we have to grow our stack and we have to grow it fast in light of the competition at the Linux level. And theyre all competing with us because they want to slow down our momentum in middleware.

So thats maybe where people are spreading rumors that the middleware has ground to a halt. But clearly what we should do as Red Hat is in fact accelerate this middleware movement. So were working on that.

JBoss has been a part of Red Hat for six months now. How are things working? Are you being given marching orders by the operating system folks, or vice versa? Who is wagging the dog?

I have no power. This is not my company. I have sold my company. So me personally, I am not wagging the dog. But Im irrelevant in this equation. The important thing is that the developers are continuing their work unencumbered. And I hope it continues this way, because when all is said and done, Red Hat management is all about OS, not about middleware. And I would hate for them to get in their own way with respect to development.

I mentioned earlier that Im a little bit disappointed that there is still no significant investment in the R&D division. We invested in sales, support and marketing, but this is really the operational side. The R&D really hasnt benefited from a huge investment for which I was hoping and was the main reason I went to Red Hat.

The flip side of that is they havent really gotten in the way yet. There have been some rumblings and sometimes we clash because there are different cultures and different approaches to open source. So its not the huge positive I was hoping for; its not the negative that it could be if they really got in the way. Right now its neutral and I think an investment is whats needed, and were still waiting for that.

Next Page: The JBossian attitude.


Is the JBossian spirit still alive, or has it diminished at all?

I think were in a transitional phase. Were in a transition phase where as part of Red Hat, Red Hat needs to do a transition from a Linux company to a bigger open-source company. Within Red Hat one of the things that I find very JBossian is their level of passion. In some cases theyre in fact too religious. And a JBossian had to be pragmatic about what he was doing. We dont have time for dogmatism.

So the level of passion is definitely there. One of the things that needs to evolve at Red Hat is this combative, no-prisoners-taken competition spirit. Theres been a context change. Red Hat is no longer this cuddly penguin that all the partners love. Now were public enemy No. 1. And that has to percolate through the ranks. And the [defiant] attitude that always characterized the JBossians—because we were born with a gun to our head and [that] triggers an attitude that makes you a little bit more realistic. You know the competitions there and you go about your work. Theres a little bit of hurt romanticism within Red Hat, where they say, "No, no, our partners still love us." Yes, they do, but theyre going to try and kill you as well. And thats the name of the game at this level. Its called "coopetition." Thats nothing new, but its new for us.

So hopefully were a viral agent within the bigger Red Hat spirit where we give them that ability to tell partners we love them but that were going to compete.

The announcement JBoss made to work with Bull and thus ObjectWeb is a conciliatory move in many respects. Could you see a similar kind of thing happening with the Spring community?

I would hope so. For as long as I can remember weve been trying to reach out to the Spring folks in terms of coming to JBoss. If you want to do professional open source, this is the place to do it. And that group has been very vocal in its criticism of JBoss, probably due to history more than anything. Because their legacy has been that EJB [Enterprise JavaBeans] is bad. But now that EJB has completely co-opted some notions of dependency injection and POJO programming, they unfortunately feel threatened that their raison d être is in jeopardy. But they pioneered the mass acceptance of POJO programming and I always thought JBoss would be a great professional home for these folks.

So the door is not closed here. And weve seen the JOnAS [ObjectWebs Java Open Application Server] crowd with Bull say theyll support JBoss, and in turn well collaborate on some ObjectWeb projects. But make no mistake: It was really Jean-Pierre Barberis, the business leader of Bull, who said it makes no sense for us to be fighting from a business standpoint. And the technical discussions were heated at first, but now that the deal is done the attitudes have changed completely.

So getting over our technical egos, on both sides, is something difficult, but Bull is coming and were making room for them. Were going to evolve our governance and were ready to do that, but it was the business side that led that.

Im afraid that in the case with Spring that theres not as much of a business tie-in that would lead the rest. But we are very open and I want them to know that.

Next Page: A kinder and gentler JBoss?


So is what were seeing a new and improved, or kinder and gentler JBoss? Im talking about things like you guys opening up your governance model, and so on.

I wouldnt characterize it as a kinder, gentler JBoss. Were definitely as aggressive and competitive as usual. What people perceive as aggressiveness and silo mentality is a lot of passion for the work we do.

We have suffered from that image in the past. And some of our competitors have played up the fact that the JBoss guys are behaving like a sect. When, in fact, if you look at the composition of our community, we have an order of magnitude more committers than our direct open-source competitors.

But the perception is still there. Bull even said something about that perception. And wed been thinking about opening up the governance. So when Bull provided us with a great study case, we decided to put the pedal to the metal. But make no mistake this is not going to be a free-for-all. We care a lot about the quality of what gets committed. We invest very heavily in all our projects. Were serious about this so we expect the same level of seriousness from our collaborators.

There is going to be a hybrid model where there is an opening up of the governance. In terms of code contributions its always been there. But now its been made explicit instead of implicit and open to attacks of "closedness." JBoss has always been an open community, but weve hired most of our primary committers.

Well, you seem more willing to compromise and evolve your stance on things. Like SCA [Service Component Architecture]—initially you were against it, but it seems like youve changed your mind.

Well, yeah, the specific SCA stance today is there is no reason for us to be for or against it. If it plays out in the market, well support it. And I think Mark Little [a JBoss core developer] said it very well that the ESB implementations usually outlive standards.

So what youre seeing from us is mostly due to Mark Littles influence. Mark has been around in the standards arena and has seen all these standards come and go. So its not about the standards, its about our implementation in support of all these standards. And its not our place to be waging a standards war. Its our place to implement and let the market decide and well follow the market.

So where Ill agree with you is that its less of a dogmatic position in terms of perceived competition and more focus on what we do well, which is implementations.

Another thing is JBoss four years ago was very much Marc Fleury and the competitive stance against Sun and things like that. Today I dont do anything. In fact, I actively stay out in terms of not getting in the way of my guys.

So its both a sign of maturity and of a more diverse organization. Im representing more than leading the technical direction these days. And thats a very good thing.

You said you approached David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, to work at JBoss. What other types of developers are you interested in hiring?

Yeah, we did approach him. There is a lot of talent around the Web framework. One of the problems is its a very fragmented community at a personal level. You have one guy and his framework. Though, this is not the case with Ruby on Rails. But theres a lot of innovation thats going on that would benefit from unification under a bigger distribution umbrella and bigger R&D umbrella. And I think JBoss/Red Hat is in a position to offer that. So were always talking about new guys.

One of the things I like to do is talk to the core developers and say, "Where are you in terms of recruitment?" And were talking to scripting guys. I think scripting is the next frontier as [Ruby on Rails] has showed. We have a unique opportunity of bringing under one big branded umbrella a diverse group of folks that today are doing excellent work, be it the scripting crowd, REST, Web framework, or the Faces, or the guys integrating with Seam. All of the work were doing is going to take more people and were always on the lookout for the right talent and the right fit.

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