Apache group aims at J2EE applications

The Apache Software Foundation launches a project to develop Web application software based on Sun's Java.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
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David Becker
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The group behind the popular Apache open-source Web server software plans to develop a complementary application server, shaking up an already turbulent market.

Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, announced in an open letter this week the formation of the Geronimo project, which will work to create Apache-compatible software for delivering Web applications based on Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology.

J2EE has steadily proliferated as a standard for delivering Web applications, supported by commercial software such as IBM's WebSphere and BEA's WebLogic, as well as the open-source JBoss.

While JBoss has attracted a growing customer base among corporate users, Stein said it has several holes that Geronimo will address, most notably JBoss' lack of certification from Sun.

Certification is Sun's guarantee that a piece of software is fully compatible with the J2EE standard. Passing a suite of tests that Sun sells is a mandatory part of the certification.

Sun and the JBoss Group, the company that has spearheaded commercial adoption of JBoss, have feuded over the software's right to use the J2EE label, although JBoss Group last week promised to work toward certification.

Stein noted that the Apache Foundation has already worked with Sun to certify Tomcat, a Java-based module for Apache.

Stein said certification is critical for commercial adoption of software because it gives enterprises assurance of interoperability.

"Many enterprises don't want to be locked in by any single vendor--the certification gives them that option," he said. "They can build their process using Apache, and if something goes wrong, they can swap in WebLogic or WebSphere without any concerns."

Bob Bickel, vice president of strategy for JBoss Group, said certification is a nonissue for the company because JBoss is on the way to getting it.

"We've committed to doing J2EE certification," he said. "I'm not sure there's any differentiation there."

Stein predicted Geronimo will also be more appealing to corporate customers and developers because it will be offered under the Apache license, which allows derivative works to be kept as proprietary software or released back to the community. JBoss' use of the Lesser General Public License (LGPL) requires all work to be shared with the development community.

"We have the less-restrictive license, which means we can actually see companies participating in our effort," Stein said. "They can create new tools and extensions and keep those closed or return them to the community."

Bickel said the LGPL has better support among developers and helps ensure the integrity and uniformity of the JBoss code.

"We think that kind of development maintains the integrity of the software and the open-source method," he said. "With Apache-style licensing, people can grab the software and take it in too many directions."

Stein said numerous developers have already enlisted to contribute to Geronimo. The first stage of the project will involve cataloging existing Apache components to set development priorities, he said.

"Apache already has significant portions of what is required," Stein said. "It's really a matter of identifying what the gaps are and then filling them in."

Stein added that he expects work to progress relatively quickly.

"I imagine it'll take us a year before we have a J2EE server that falls under the Apache license...and at that point we can start the certification process," he said.

Bickel said he doesn't expect JBoss to lose any significant developer support to Geronimo, which he characterized as a largely redundant effort.

"I don't see why this is necessary," he said. "But it does kind of point to the success that JBoss has had in the marketplace in that we're attracting imitators now."