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Red Hat, JBoss committers, and the IBM question

Red Hat is under siege. Will it weather the storm?

James Governor has a thoughtful response to my earlier post on Red Hat's JBoss business. James refuses to be drawn on the easier criticisms of my post, arguing instead:

It's no surprise to see JBoss being marked down by investment analysts. But if it starts to lose more committers it may have a real problem on its hands. Arguably the new business model has significantly evolved from the Fleury Era cult of personality, but in the open source world it is still a massive boon to have core developers on staff. I am not saying JBoss is dead or anything silly like that--but the situation is certainly interesting.

Indeed. It's one thing to lose a sales team. It's quite another--and much more dire--to lose one's development team, and especially in an open-source company. This isn't to say, for example, that JBoss' sales team isn't worth keeping around: if you're an open-source vendor you know how hard it can be to find salespeople that truly grok open source and sell accordingly.

But development is the lifeblood of an open-source project and company, and if JBoss is losing more than a trickle of its committers, Red Hat has serious problems that it needs to address.

I continue to believe that the Red Hat/JBoss turmoil is more about Red Hat learning to listen and JBoss learning that it needs to move beyond being the "bad boy" of open source and application servers. Red Hat, whatever its faults, is excellent at execution. I suspect there's a fair amount of grousing within the JBoss ranks because Red Hat's culture is a bit more staid (read: much more) than JBoss'.

James touches on a potentially larger threat to Red Hat than poor execution on JBoss, however: IBM. I've heard the same rumblings about IBM getting into the Linux distribution game, and they're more than mere rumblings. Oracle has its own Linux. If IBM gets its own, too, what will this mean for Red Hat? So far "Unbreakable Linux" has done exactly nothing to slow Red Hat's growth. But if IBM were to dilute Red Hat's influence even further? This would be bad.

Of course, it could also be really bad for the industry as we degenerate into the Unix wars again. If that were to happen, perhaps Red Hat's strong position would get even stronger as customers sought to avoid the fragmentation by rallying around the leader. Perhaps. But lots of questions for Red Hat, all the same.