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Thursday, May 12, 2005

From the horse's mouth

Two days ago (5/10/05) I wrote a piece on IBM's acquisition of Gluecode, an open-source play that they are planning to use to open low end markets before converting Gluecode/Geronimo users to IBM's enterprise application server WebSphere.

One of the questions I was hoping to get answers for was: did IBM feel too much heat in the SMB market from JBoss and decided to gobble up a start up to hurt JBoss by making Geronimo better and more popular?

I guess I was too optimistic thinking that I had so many readers that all my questions were going to be answered and that's the end of it. Sadly, this morning my question was still unanswered so I decided to look around for possible hints. Who better than Marc Fleury (who loves to talk about JBoss's success and enjoys commenting on his competitors' every move) to answer my JBoss related question? Let's get it from the horse's big mouth!

Marc had already used his blog to share his initial reaction to IBM's acquisition of Gluecode. In addition to that, I found an audio interview of JBoss's CEO by ZDNet's David Berlind; it is available in MP3 format if you are interested. If you don't have 35 minutes to listen to the interview and another 5 minutes to read his blog entry (I've already done that for you), here's Marc's take on this move and its implications on the application server market:

Marc believes IBM is most likely NOT serious about this deal. Their lead WebSphere engineer did not know it was coming and said it was not going to affect his development plans for WebSphere. Marc's interpretation of this acquisition is that it's nothing more than a PR coup to create FUD and slow JBoss down while taking BEA out of the picture. All this with very little risk on IBM's part because, in his words: "Gluecode was a joke ... a dying/crappy company..." and it didn't cost IBM much anyway.

Fleury thinks that IBM's strategy doesn't make much sense, it is a "bait and switch" ploy where IBM wants to be OSS friendly until you are locked in and then they'll persuade you to upgrade to an expensive WebSphere/DB2 set up. He thinks this won't work simply because JBoss exists and JBoss has become good enough for the high end market rising up from its initial low end turf. His question is: why would people (customers and ISVs) pay for WebSphere if JBoss is FREE. My quick comment is to never underestimate what giants like IBM can pull off. I agree that BEA couldn't do it and that's why JBoss is squeezing them from the bottom up but IBM is a different beast. He also rightfully points out that Geronimo is not even on their competition radar today, they [Gluecode/Geronimo] still have to produce a 1.0 and a healthy community. Personally, I believe that, if (it's a big IF) IBM is serious about supporting Apache's Geronimo, it'll be on everyone's radar within 2 years. Look at what Eclipse (despite a late start) did to Sun's NetBeans.

Fleury also mentioned that, if anything, IBM's move confirms their fear of JBoss; it also validates that OSS is here to stay, it works and it's safe.

David Berlind asked Fleury a crispy question: why would IBM buy an insignificant OSS player [Gluecode] when they could have bought you and reached 67% market share? [The 67% figure comes from a BZ Research study that had JBoss at 34% and IBM at 33% followed by BEA at 27%]. Fleury's response was that he was not even approached because IBM is probably not serious about a genuine open source strategy; in addition to that "IBM doesn’t like us". This argument is definitely not convincing to me, people love you when you can double their market share. Other possible acquirers are obviously CA or BEA which could use a #1 spot (~ 60%) and become respected vendor and a force to be reckoned with, as it used to be.

Marc concluded that they were not interested in any acquisition at this point (I don't buy that, I think that it's only a matter of how much) and that he was going to have fun watching this movie unfold and enjoy being under the spotlight as a result (or side effect) of this "IBM PR coup".

Where do you think JBoss will be in 3 to 5 years? Dominant as an independent infrastructure player? Dead crushed by IBM's might? Or acquired by a much bigger vendor like HP, CA, Oracle or Novell? I am personally going for the latter. How about you?

Another interesting question: Is IBM going to force Sun into opening (in a FOSS meaning) Java, something they have been pressuring Sun to do forever?

With Geronimo's crew becoming IBMers and some of them are leading the Harmony project (the newly announced open source J2SE project), is IBM positioning itself to gain significant control on the Java platform despite Sun's resistance? You tell me.

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