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Fleury 'not touching' Oracle question

The buzz in the software industry is that and possibly other open-source companies, Zend Technologies and Sleepycat Software.

JBoss CEO and founder Marc Fleury, who spoke at an MIT-sponsored open-source conference on Saturday, wouldn't answer the hanging over the room.

"Some of you will joke that (Oracle CEO) Larry Ellison is on my phone. I will not touch this," he said partway through his speech on JBoss and open-source business models.

Similarly, JBoss' lead venture investor, David Skok from Matrix Partners, on Saturday wouldn't comment on whether talks were underway. However, Skok did say that going public is still a possibility for JBoss, in part because the business is still growing rapidly.

In previous interviews, Fleury has indicated that the selling the company has come up with partners. Indeed, BEA Systems' said that but declined because of the price JBoss was asking. One industry executive said that JBoss' license, the Lesser General Public License, posed an obstacle for BEA as well.

Although nothing has come so far of the reported talks, the potential deals raise the obvious question: will it work?

For Oracle, the deal dovetails with two important thrusts at the company. First, Oracle is embracing open-source software and is trying to allow its customers to mix and match open-source and Oracle proprietary software. Secondly, subscription-based pricing, often used by open-source companies such as JBoss, fits well with Oracle's direction general direction of generating revenue from ongoing maintenance fees.

But can Oracle buy an open-source "community" without estranging the developers working on these projects?

Mike Milinkovich, the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, says it can be done. That may not be surprising coming from the head of Eclipse, a successful open-source project founded by IBM and staffed almost entirely with software company employees.

Starting a community from scratch is difficulty, experts say. The trick to moving into an existing one is respecting the community and not dramatically changing direction, Milinkovich said Saturday.

"If a company buys a community to monetize it, they'll fall and really quickly," he said. "There has long been corporate support for open source at varying degrees. Now that corporate involvement is more visible."

RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said there are some perils to a large firm moving into open-source.

"You can't buy a community and dictate the terms," he said. "But you can buy influencers (such as lead developers) in an open-source community. That's a viable strategy."

IBM's purchase of Gluecode gave the company some of the lead engineers in the Apache Geronimo project. And JBoss itself has consolidated a number of open-source projects by employing important developers behind a few open-source projects, notably Apache Tomcat and Hibernate.