Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat currently sells a version of the Linux operating system along with service and support, but this week the company released a beta version
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Application servers provide a standard way to run programs--usually written with Sun's Java programming language--on a wide variety of servers. Java application server features are set by the Java 2 Enterprise Edition specification, which ensures programs will be able to perform tasks such as constructing Web pages, fetching information from databases and sending messages to other servers.
BEA Systems and IBM are the dominant sellers of application servers today, with Sun Microsystems and Oracle aggressively trying to edge into the market.
Red Hat's software will be one of the first parts of the company's, under which it plans to sell new modules that build on its Linux foundation. Other parts will include clustering software to join several systems together in a cooperative group and programming tools based on the .
But Red Hat likely won't have as easy a time disrupting the application server market as it did the Linux market, said Shawn Willett, an analyst with Current Analysis.
When Red Hat took on Unix with Linux, its operating system was less expensive and its open-source philosophy allowed customers and businesses a greater say in what direction the software should take, Willett said, but those advantages are diluted in the application server arena.
"You're not going to have a replication of the market conditions that made Linux take off. The pricing advantage isn't going to be there, and J2EE is already an open process," Willett said. Sun's application server is free, he noted.
As expected, the Red Hat Application Server usescalled Jonas, short for Java Open Application Server. Jonas competes with two other open-source application servers, JBoss from JBoss Group, and Geronimo from the Apache Software Foundation.
Even though application servers can be had for free, there still are business openings for the open-source products. "I have talked to customers, and there is a lot of interest in JBoss and some of these other ones. People are looking for someone who's going to support it," Willett said.
Red Hat and JBoss Group held discussions about bundling JBoss' popular Java software with Red Hat's application server, but the talks broke down because the two parties could not come to terms over sharing support services revenue, according to JBoss executives. JBoss Group, like Red Hat, gives its software away and charges corporate customers for consulting services.
One significant application server feature is certification that the software has passed a suite of tests from Sun. Apache and ObjectWeb announced earlier in December they're working together to achieve J2EE certification from Sun in 2004.
Red Hat's application server has other components besides Jonas. The Tomcat package can run some types of Java programs and create Web pages, and the Struts software can link different components of an application server. The Red Hat app server also includes software that can link to the MySQL open-source database.
CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.