Spring Is in the Air

Opinion: Interface21 and its Spring Framework are hot right now in the open-source enterprise Java space. Will they be gobbled up?

Spring is in the air … and up for grabs? Well, uh, no, apparently not.

Just two weeks ago, the word in the enterprise Java world was that Oracle, following on the heels of its acquisition of Tangosol, was closing in on Interface21 to get a hold of the popular Spring Framework, a lightweight alternative to J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition)—now known simply as Java Platform, Enterprise Edition or JEE (Java EE).

But Rod Johnson, CEO of London-based Interface21 and founder of the Spring Framework, responded to that issue succinctly. "Were not negotiating with anyone," he said. "We plan to remain independent." Interface21 is the company behind the open-source Spring Framework, which is probably the most ubiquitous Java framework youve never heard of.

"I use Spring heavily in many of the projects I work on," said Jeff Genender, chief technology officer and chief architect at Savoir Technologies, in Evergreen, Colo. "Their Spring API is pretty much ubiquitous and a standard staple for many development efforts. Its made my life a lot easier wiring together objects to support an application."

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about Interface21s release of Spring 2.0.

Neelan Choksi, Interface21s senior vice president, Americas, said the rumor seems to change every few weeks about another major player showing interest in Interface21. One week its Oracle, and another its BEA Systems or somebody else, he said. And Choksi is familiar with both of those players, having sold his own startup, SolarMetric, to BEA and having worked with Oracles folks on what became the Java Persistence API.

But Johnson insists that Interface21 is planning to stay independent. That means he plans either to grow the company organically or entertain funding offers of some sort.

Ironically, while there have been erstwhile dour relations between Interface21 and the open-source enterprise Java trailblazer JBoss, Johnson and company can actually thank JBoss for setting the tone for an entity like Interface21 to be able to generate such serious attention from big players and venture capitalists. Indeed, after Red Hats $350 million acquisition of JBoss last year, Interface21 is enjoying what some refer to as the "JBoss Multiplier" effect on its valuation and ability to raise money.

And this is not by coincidence—and certainly not by luck alone. Johnson built a solid team around a great idea at the perfect time. J2EE had gained a reputation as being heavy and complex. Spring offered a lighter-weight solution. And it caught on.

I first met Rod Johnson a few years ago at a TheServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas. He had just delivered a night-time keynote, and I approached him for comment. He didnt know me from Adam and was a little suspicious. Not that I blame him for that—Im suspicious of the press myself! But we agreed to chat later.

The next day I went to a session at the same event where Johnson was slated to challenge the EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) specification, and the room was packed. Sun Microsystem folks had earlier that day touted the strengths of a then upcoming technology called EJB 3, which itself challenged many of Johnsons claims, and folks wanted to see what he was going to say. Johnson didnt detour. He lit right into Sun, EJB and J2EE.

Right then I knew this was a guy to keep an eye on. I think it was also at that TSSJS that Rod started to get cozy with Adrian Colyer, an AOP (aspect-oriented programming) expert, then at IBM and now CTO of Interface21. Anyway, Johnson bucked conventional wisdom, stood his ground and grew Interface21 into a Java powerhouse that now supports its own conferences full of loyal followers.

Rod Johnson and Juergen Hoeller developed the Spring Framework. And a group of committers sprang up around it, encompassing a core group of developers.

Hiring Colyer was a coup. Hiring Choksi was similar to getting a sleeper free agent from a rival. Choksi was wasting away at BEA and needed a challenge. Helping Interface21 reach the next level was just the challenge he needed. Choksi is a team building, deal maker kind of guy who is not afraid to take a gamble. He was once part of the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Blackjack Team that set out to beat casinos at their own game by using card counting and other techniques to improve their odds at blackjack.

Meanwhile, Interface21 has Spring-related partnerships with companies such as BEA, Oracle, Tangosol (now part of Oracle), Gigaspaces and MuleSource, among others.

In addition to the core Spring Framework, Spring features several related projects, including Spring Security, Spring AOP, Spring Web Flow, Spring Web Services, Spring Rich Client, Spring IDE (integrated development environment), Spring MVC (model-view controller), Spring LDAP, Spring OSGi (Open Services Gateway Initiative) and Spring.Net.

In an interview with eWEEK in December, Colyer said Interface21 is targeting the first half of 2007 for a coordinated release train of Spring and its subprojects.

Last month, Gartner recognized Interface21 as a "cool" vendor, citing the notion that the company not only promotes "easier to use programming models but also advanced programming methodologies including AOP, Inversion of Control and Dependency Injection models." Gartner also cited the Springs adoption of OSGi for micro-kernel modularity as another "cool" factor.

Although I often tend not to care what Gartner thinks, theyre onto something here.

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