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2/16/2007
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With Fleury Gone, Red Hat Shifts To New Leaders For JBoss

Open source projects can flounder without strong leadership. JBoss' new team must keep that from happening.

Marc Fleury used his words as much as his coding skills to convince the business world that the JBoss open source project could produce enterprise-caliber middleware. So it was uncharacteristic for Fleury to leave his job at Red Hat, which bought JBoss nine months ago, with only a cryptic statement: "I've done what I can to help Red Hat succeed."


Fleury in less quiet times

Fleury in less quiet times
It's up to Red Hat to fill the silence. Even more than proprietary software development, open source projects depend on a project leader who can direct a diverse community of developers and users. Fleury played that role during the development of the innovative JBoss application server. He also brought credibility to open source development as a startup business model when he sold the JBoss company for $329 million.

For Red Hat to justify paying that price, it must bring in a new leader who can keep the development community vibrant. In an industry with a shortage of good development leaders, "there's clear value in having a strong leader," says Jason Maynard, software analyst at Credit Suisse. "Red Hat needs to resolve that situation."

CHANGES AT THE TOP

Red Hat appears to have made its decision, and will divide responsibility. Tim Yeaton, Red Hat's general manager of products, says the company likes the job two Fleury lieutenants are doing: Shaun Connolly, JBoss' VP of product management, and Sacha Labourney, JBoss' CTO. Connelly will report to Yeaton, and Labourney will report to Paul Cormier, Red Hat's executive VP of engineering. That cross-reporting should help JBoss, which now includes 25 separate middleware projects, integrate better into Red Hat's software lineup.

The job of leading the JBoss.org community--the open source code development project itself--falls to Bob McWhirter, an experienced leader of Drools, the business rules engine project, and founder of Codehaus, a repository of open source projects. McWhirter was named to that role by Red Hat even before Fleury announced he was leaving. He must engage contributors and users around the world so they'll continue suggesting features and code for JBoss projects. About two-thirds of the bug fixes, patches, and code improvements in last year's JBoss 4.0.5 release came from community contributors.

"They're going to lose some of that vibe that was in place with Fleury," predicts Dave Rosenberg, CEO of MuleSource, the company behind the Mule enterprise service bus, another open source project with promising business appeal. However, Fleury's ability to command the spotlight may be less important now that JBoss is so widely used, he adds.

Red Hat is used to weathering highs and lows. It has steadily regained much of the market value it lost in October, when its shares plunged 25% after Oracle chairman Larry Ellison promised Linux support for half the price of Red Hat. Jeffries & Co. analyst Katherine Egbert upgraded her evaluation of Red Hat to "buy" a few days after Fleury's departure, concluding Oracle's move to launch an "unbreakable Linux" support alternative isn't hurting Red Hat's revenue much.

Fleury and his wife, Nathalie, are estimated to have owned more than 50% of JBoss, so it's perhaps no surprise he didn't opt to stay under a new boss. But Fleury hasn't left JBoss--or its developers--in the lurch. Gavin King, one of JBoss' star developers and now a Red Hat employee, had led Hibernate, an object-relational mapping project within JBoss. Now he's a coordinator of projects, still lending a hand to Hibernate while pouring his and six other developers' work into a Java framework called Seam. "This is the first time in my life I've had resources like this," says King. "I'm doing stuff that I've wanted to do for years."

Like King, JBoss looks positioned to do all right after Fleury.

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