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Microsoft ties knot with JBoss: who's the enemy?

Microsoft and open-source middleware provider JBoss announced a partnership on Tuesday to make their respective server products work well together. The surprise move sheds some light on how these two companies view the competitive landscape, and perhaps how the back-end software market will shape up in years to come.

Microsoft and JBoss will collaborate to build closer ties between their products, notably between JBoss application servers and Microsoft management software. Also they intend to make JBoss' Hibernate database-access development framework work well with Microsoft SQL Server.

The deal echoes a similar interoperability partnership between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. But by choosing JBoss as its next interoperability partner in the middleware area, Microsoft is making clear who it views as friends and enemies.

IBM, in particular, appears to be where Microsoft, through its partnerships, is pointing its competitive guns. IBM is Microsoft's primary platform competitor with the comparable resources to battle over the long haul. Much as its partnership with Sun soothes concerns over Sun's future, Microsoft is giving JBoss, a small venture-backed company, more credibility.

"JBoss is experiencing tremendous growth and is a driving force of consolidation of the Java space," said Bill Hilf, Microsoft's director of platform technology strategy.

For its part, JBoss gets its digs in at IBM as well. Not wanting to miss the wave in open-source Java middleware, IBM earlier this year bought Gluecode and threw its weight behind Geronimo, the Apache open-source application server started by JBoss defectors. JBoss can now tout a closer relationship with Microsoft that IBM can't.

JBoss CEO Marc Fleury is fond of predicting that the middleware market will comes to three companies: IBM, Microsoft and JBoss. Although he's far from achieving that goal, it's clear Fleury and friends are planning for the future.