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JBoss unveils work flow engine

The product represents the next stage in the company's strategy to build a full open-source middleware stack.

Open-source software company JBoss on Monday released jBPM 2.0, a work flow engine that it developed in collaboration with the open-source project of the same name.

Sacha Labourey, European general manager at JBoss, said this is the next stage in the company's strategy to build a full open-source middleware stack. The company already has various enterprise offerings, including an application server, JBoss AS 4.0, and a caching facility for server clusters, JBossCache.

Labourey said that when growing the stack, the company either does in-house development or uses projects that are already available in the open-source community. In this case, it decided to work with the jBPM project and employed its founder, Tom Baeyens.

Baeyens said this release of jBPM does not have a GUI (graphical user interface), as the development team initially concentrated on creating a powerful work flow engine. A version of the product with a GUI will be released in the first quarter of 2005.

The market for work flow engines is fragmented, with no single vendor able to handle all process requirements, according to a report from research company Gartner called "Creating a BPM and Workflow Automation Vendor Checklist." JBoss hopes to exploit this fragmentation, and its developers claim that jBPM will be cheaper to implement than other market offerings and has been designed to handle all requirements.

Wil van der Aalst, a professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology and the author of various books on work flow management, said work flow vendors have traditionally had a hard time making an impact in the market, both because of cost and a lack of understanding by management.

"It is very difficult to explain a work flow system to management, as it doesn't solve just one problem," van der Aalst said.

At present, work flow engines are mostly used by large organizations such as insurance companies and banks, according to van der Aalst. But he points out that work flow engines are often a component of other systems, such as those devoted to ERP (enterprise resource planning) and product data management, as well as call center software.

Van der Aalst said JBoss may also face competition from within the open-source community, as there are more than 20 open-source work flow projects, including YAWL, an engine on which he is collaborating.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.