JBoss CEO, Staff Accused Of 'Astroturfing'

Middleware will still follow the movements of JBoss, and developers may continue to discuss JBoss' open-source projects on the Middleware Company's developer forums.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

May 28, 2004

4 Min Read

Outspoken JBoss CEO Marc Fleury has gotten his professional open-source company into hot water with the group overseeing one of the leading Java Web communities.

On Friday, The Middleware Company, a Java research firm and knowledge network that runs TheServerSide.com, announced it was severing business ties with JBoss. The move follows attempts by the firm to mend fences with the Atlanta-based company after Fleury and his employees were accused of using fictitious names to post messages promoting JBoss and blasting competitors to Java community Web sites, such as TheServerSide and JavaLobby. That practice, known as "astroturfing," is common on developer and other Web forums.

"The Middleware Company attempted to diplomatically work through differences that arose from recent events," the company said in a press statement. "However, the instability and unprofessional conduct from JBoss CEO Marc Fleury eroded the company's optimism for reaching resolution. The Middleware Company regrets the inconvenience this may cause JBoss."

Reached on the phone Friday, Fleury called the announcement "irrelevant" and referred CRN to Joe McGonnell, director of marketing at JBoss.

McGonnell reiterated that he thought the news was a nonevent and that the Middleware Company was trying to "blow it out of proportion," since the cutting of business ties between the two companies won't have an effect on news and information about JBoss that has been posted on TheServerSide.com.

McGonnell added that the Middleware Company will still follow the movements of JBoss, and developers can still discuss relevant news and development topics about JBoss' open-source projects on the Middleware Company's developer forums.

Similarly, in its press statement, the Middleware Company said that it will "continue news coverage and editorial in a neutral manner on technology, events and vendors."

Prior to Friday's decision, JBoss had been running banner ads on TheServerSide.com, but that campaign has been cancelled, McGonnell said. JBoss also sponsored TheServerSide Java Symposium, which was held earlier this month in Las Vegas, and had been in discussions with the Middleware Company to develop research papers. JBoss will no longer engage in those sort of activities, McGonnell said.

Anthony Awtrey, vice president of I.D.E.A.L. Technology, an Orlando, Fla.-based solution provider, likened Fleury to another outspoken industry CEO, Oracle's Larry Ellison and said he wasn't surprised by Fleury's alleged behavior. He said while rifts between companies inspired by an executive's comments or actions are "immature and not something I would recommend for my company," Awtrey said the events would not affect the solution provider's JBoss business.

"The customer is so insulated from the happenings in our market," Awtrey said. "I talk with people who are interested in the solution. [They say], 'Is JBoss good? Will it work? Will it save me money? Good, let's do it.' "

Awtrey also predicted that the Middleware Company and JBoss might reconnect their ties in the future if JBoss wins more market share and becomes a more dominant force in the market. "So you're mad at Bill Gates and you'll stop taking advertising revenue from Microsoft? That's not going to happen," he said.

Fleury has not denied the astroturfing allegations outright. But in a May 21 entry in his blog on the JBoss Web site, Fleury referred to JBoss as a "tell it like it is" kind of company and banned astroturfing from JBoss.

"We want to be role models for open-source developers around the world," Fleury wrote in his blog. "To do so, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Let's put the professional back in professional open source."

Indeed, Fleury has a reputation for speaking his mind, a fact that often does not endear him to competitors. But after a much publicized feud with Sun Microsystems over J2EE licensing was resolved last year, the flamboyant CEO seemed to have declared a truce with leading Java community members. He even appeared onstage alongside executives from Sun, BEA Systems, Oracle and IBM at a J2EE compatibility event in San Francisco in April.

Earlier this year, JBoss also joined the expert group of the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) specification committee in the Java Community Process (JCP), a move that showed its intent to work with competitors to promote common Java interests and standards. The company is currently working to certify the JBoss open-source application server as J2EE-compatible after licensing the technology from Sun in November 2003.

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