JBoss Rewrites The Open-Source Rule Book With Red Hat Deal
Blatantly commercial, fiercely controlling, JBoss CEO Fleury saw an opportunity to take the open-source strategy in a new direction.
Since its inception in 1999, JBoss has been unlike other open source projects for two reasons: It toiled in an area other open source programmers considered a backwater--corporate middleware, and founder Marc Fleury was brazenly out to make money.
In most software circles, selling your startup for $350 million--which Fleury did last week, to Red Hat--makes you a hero. But the open source world, despite getting far more commercial since 1999, is still driven by an aura of developer communities swapping code around a technology because they love it.
It's Fleury's game.
Photo by Eric Lesser
JBoss also was an oddball seven years ago because it focused on getting Java applications to work with other parts of the enterprise infrastructure. Much of the open source community at the time saw the Java camp as excessively corporate. "I didn't think of middleware as inherently cool," says Eric Allman, an exec with Sendmail who wrote the open source program of the same name, which moves E-mail from one Internet server to another. Conveniently, that left Fleury with the Java middleware field to himself.
Fleury also hasn't played by the usual rules for building a community of open source developers. Stubborn and outspoken, he built JBoss on what he calls "professional open source." He kept tight control over the code by hiring for JBoss any developer who showed signs of becoming a key contributor. Some developers left, some of whom eventually helped found the competing Geronimo open source app server project. But JBoss survived, and the result is an app server and open source middleware suite that JBoss can vouch for owning, avoiding the indemnification issue that can plague more open projects.
Still, Fleury's "professional open source" phrase, combined with his personality, often grates on an earlier generation of open source code authors. "What does that make the rest of us, amateurs?" wonders Brian Behlendorf, CTO of CollabNet and co-founder of one of the most successful pieces of open source code, the Apache Web server.
Hardly. Behlendorf's project, by proving open source software could meet business' toughest standards, now is the Web server market leader. By that measure, Fleury's methods still have a lot to prove. But last week's deal shows he may have built the model for open source to profit from programming prowess.