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JBoss hopes to expand 'ownership' of open source

The middleware developer says it plans to use its war chest of venture capital to "own" key open-source projects, and even applications running on .Net could be in its sights.

Open-source middleware developer JBoss plans to use the $10 million venture capital injection it received in February to expand its "ownership" of open-source projects, according to CEO Marc Fleury.


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"We are going for ownership of the code bases," Fleury said in an interview.

JBoss makes its money from support and services for its eponymous Java-based application server, which it distributes for free under an open-source license. Recently, the Atlanta-based company has hired key developers for specific open-source projects. Last October, it signed up Gavin King, the mind behind the Hibernate project, which is a "persistence engine" that stores Java objects in relational databases. Before that, it had already snapped up Remy Maucherat, the lead developer of Tomcat 5; Julien Viet, who developed the Nukes content management system; and Bela Ban, creator of JGroups.

Under the JBoss business model, which it has trademarked as "Professional Open Source," the company basically pays open-source developers to work on their own projects and then charges customers for support.

"Professional Open Source allows JBoss to grow and recruit the top talent from successful open-source efforts," Fleury said. "It enables developers to work full-time and become professionals on their own projects."

"We consider something open source when we control X amount of the code base," Fleury said, but he declined put a figure on that amount. "We control 95 percent of the Hibernate code base and 45 percent of Tomcat," he said.

Sacha Labourey, general manager at JBoss, said the company is not out to hijack open-source projects. "We look at a project, then talk to the lead developers. A side effect is that we aid the project, because the developers are then paid by JBoss to push the project."

The model makes a lot of sense for companies looking to use open-source applications in a production environment, according to some analysts.

"It cuts a swathe through the whole support issue around open source," Ovum senior analyst Bola Rotibi said. "The key problem for open source has always been support and how a company can raise issues with the relevant people. How do you escalate a problem with open-source applications? Where do you come in the pecking order? It may depend on how many people raise that particular problem, but what if your problem is specific?"

To date, most of the JBoss hires have been for Java projects, but the company is also considering recruiting developers who work on open-source projects based on Microsoft's .Net architecture. "We will get quite ambitious," Fleury said. "We are big Microsoft fans, and we're very interested in .Net."

In particular, said Fleury, JBoss is becoming increasingly interested in aspect-oriented programming. The modular approach of this kind of development is meant to make it easier for programmers to make changes to complex projects. Aspect-oriented tools separate out functions more clearly, which means that changes made for one function can be reflected in other parts of an application.

For example, a Web developer could build an application to fetch data from a packaged application database when a request comes from a corporate portal. As part of that function and others, software engineers could write additional code to log events for auditing purposes. With an aspect-oriented tool, one developer could enhance the logging function, or "aspect," in a single place without having to modify the code that does the database look-up. These changes could be reflected in other places in an application's code, where logging is required.

Fleury sees aspect-oriented programming as having a natural affinity with Microsoft's .Net, in comparison with Java 2 Enterprise Edition. "In J2EE, it is fairly complex," he said. "But Microsoft says middleware should not be intrusive. Aspect-oriented programming can work well with that."

Matt Loney of ZDNet UK reported from London.