Is Sun Microsystems Inc. as much a friend to open source as it claims to be?
Late last year Sun amended its Java Community Process (JCP) program to accommodate demands of the open-source community and enable organizations to license the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) compatibility test suite without licensing the source code, which was formerly the case. But the Atlanta-based JBoss Group LLC, the first organization to which Sun has offered the new amended licensing, is crying foul.
Rick Scaletta, group manager of J2EE licensing at Sun, acknowledged that Sun so far has only offered the revised licensing scheme to JBoss—for licensing the compatibility test suite for the upcoming next version of J2EE, known as J2EE 1.4. However, JBoss is balking at the deal, and Sun is making noise about it. The JBoss Group develops and maintains the open-source JBoss Java application server.
However, observers say the overall issue is bigger than Sun and JBoss and is more an issue of what happens when an open-source application grows up and developers begin trying to comercialize a technology. At an open-source conference in Washington last week, Jason Matusow, program manager for Microsoft Corp.s Shared Source Initiative, said that in his view, open-source software vendors are largely looking to commercialize open-source software in some way. And Microsoft makes no bones about it: the company will not soon support open-source software but will coexist with it.
Meanwhile, Sun officials said JBoss is competing unfairly with the rest of the J2EE community by selling its product without getting certified “and are at risk of splitting the Java community,” a company source said. According to some inside Sun, there appears to be “an opinion that thinks because JBoss Group is associated with open source they are exempt from normal rules.”
Ronald Schmelzer, president of ZapThink LLC, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research firm, said, “Maybe Sun has a point here—that JBoss cant have both ends of the stick. However, the problem is that it shows that Java as an open technology is really extending beyond the reach of Sun. They will have to find some way to rein in the forces that conspire to pull it apart. Either it will have to be a third-party organization with teeth, or it will have to be Sun—at the expense of openness.”
Added Schmelzer: “Sun needs to beware that they dont fall into the same trap they accuse Microsoft and IBM of setting. Coercing partners into licensing suites for open technologies is similar to what they are accusing Microsoft et al. would do for royalties on SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol]. If a technology is really open, it should not be possible for any one vendor to force any other vendor to do anything for the benefit of that vendor.”
Yet, Sun says its work with the Apache Foundation, a key force in the open-source movement, and JCP 2.5, the upgraded process designed to accommodate open-source initiatives, are evidence of its commitment to the open-source community. Sun portrays the situation as a typical licensing deal, JBoss says Sun is trying to force its hand, and although both parties say they are working on striking a deal, it appears both are comfortable negotiating in the press, sources said.
Saletta said separating the licensing of the J2EE source code and the test suite is a nod to the open-source community “because the open-source community often has different code bases,” and by offering the test suite separately, users “can license it, pass and be branded J2EE compatible.”
Saletta—who sources said is sometimes described as a “Sun gunman” because of his tenacity in defending Sun and because his name “rhymes with Beretta”—said he believes JBoss is playing for a marketing angle, sources said.
“JBoss has called themselves David, and Sun Goliath,” Saletta said. “They said Sun refused to let them be compatible, but thats not the case. They were the first company we offered the J2EE 1.4 [compatibility test] license to. Were doing our best to accommodate these open-source distributors… Sun is not preventing JBoss from becoming a compatible vendor. Wed love to have them onboard to do some co-marketing. I dont want licensing to be an issue.”
JBoss took exception to Suns raising the issue in the first place. “First of all weve been talking to Sun under a nondisclosure agreement they insisted we sign, and for them to run out and breach their own document and have JBoss comment on something they said is outrageous,” said Lawrence Rosen, general counsel for JBoss Group LLC, and a partner with Rosenlaw & Einschlag and general counsel for the Open Source Initiative, all from his office in Ukiah, Calif.
Rosen acknowledged that JBoss and Sun are “discussing” certification, “but were not there yet and why theyre trying to force our hand I dont know.” I dont know why Sun is doing this. I dont think all of Sun is doing it. I think its some rogue salesman whose sales are not going as well as theyd like and theyre trying to blame it on JBoss.”
Marc Fleury, founder and president of JBoss Group, and chief developer of the application server, told eWEEK in an earlier interview that the reason application server vendors are moving to focus on integration and portals and other elements around the core application server is “because JBoss has destroyed their revenue opportunities” in the core application server space. “There is no license revenue anymore on the container,” he said.
Added Rosen: “Sun hasnt explained to us why we need certification. If Better Homes and Gardens said we needed it Id ask for a reason, same with the Family Circle or Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Why is certification from Sun any relevance to us?”
“They have to convince me to buy,” he said. “In the meantime, I dont need your product. I am not convinced I need it… Our customers are not saying they need it, so I see no reason to get it.”
Yet, Rosen said he has “no objection in principle,” to being certified, “the question is how much does it cost and whats it worth? Its not worth what their offering price is. And their price keeps going up, not down.” Yet, Sun sources said the company has offered JBoss among the lowest licensing terms the company ever has.
“I dont want this to be seen as an indictment of Sun with respect to open source”, Rosen said. Yet, “Frankly, I dont think they really want us to get certified. They want to be able to say that we arent.”
Turning on the Saletta reference from the Bible, Rosen said: “They are saying were playing a David role, it seems to me David won. David was the hero of that story.”
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