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Microsoft-JBoss deal strictly business

Does a pledge of greater cooperation between Microsoft and JBoss Inc. mean that Redmond is finally warming up to the idea of open source software? Not really, says one analyst.

A newly inked deal that calls for greater cooperation between Microsoft and open source software firm JBoss Inc. is all about the money, according to one IT industry analyst.

The joint pledge to improve the performance of JBoss Application Server software on Windows represented more than a rosy photo opportunity for two philosophically opposed firms, said Michael Goulde, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. Moreover, he said, it was a calculated business move that holds the promise of attracting new customers to both camps.

For Microsoft, whose .NET-based application server tools compete directly with JBoss, a less dominant but growing player, Goulde said the plusses outweigh the minuses.

Did you know …

… that Microsoft has actually distributed open source General Public License (GPL) code for several years?

"It was contained in a product of theirs called [Windows] Services for Unix," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Michael Goulde. "And in order to have a product called Services for Unix, you need to have services that are compatible with Unix."  

Undoubtedly, that simple fact is what led Microsoft to include in Services for Unix the GPL code for a handful of GNU tools, including the gcc, g++ and g77 compilers.

"Nobody made a big deal about it until a couple of years ago when people started thinking that that was absolutely the wildest thing they could ever imagine," Goulde remembered. "But it was actually no big deal."

"It gives [Microsoft] an opportunity to give customers a J2EE [Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition] option on Windows if they decide that for whatever reason they don't want to go with .NET," he explained. "In the past, they used to lose those customers."

JBoss stands to benefit from the deal by getting its technology to work better on the platform of choice for many existing -- and potential -- users.

"The subtext of the [deal] is that almost half of JBoss' customers are already using JBoss on Windows, even though it's not particularly well optimized for it," he said.

The two companies will continue to compete in the application server market while at the same time working to increase interoperability between Microsoft Windows Server and the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS), a software stack comprised of several open source projects, including the JBoss Application Server, EJB 3.0, Hibernate and Javassist.

Specifically, Microsoft and JBoss said they'll focus on tighter integration of directory services, database management systems and management tools.

JBoss on the rise

JBoss reports that between 500 and 1,000 corporations use the JBoss Application Server, but that number only includes customers who have support contracts with JBoss. It's not known how many other companies have downloaded and deployed the free software without support contracts, though analysts said the system is growing fast in popularity.

Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst with RedMonk, in Denver, said one of main reasons for JBoss' growing notoriety has to do with the rise of Web services and the demand for cost-effective, back-end integration capabilities. Web services, he added, have traditionally been the realm of very high-end providers.

"The JEMS suite, JBoss' middleware package, includes integration functionality," said O'Grady, who predicts that the open source community will continue responding to the demand for greater connectivity.

Microsoft's new approach to open source unclear

The pact with JBoss, which represents just one of Microsoft's recent dealings with open source players, has some in the industry wondering if the software giant is changing its game plan in response to the growing success of Linux and open source applications.

Last August, Microsoft's offer to jointly sponsor research into the total cost of ownership of Windows versus Linux was rejected by the Open Source Development Labs.

Earlier in the year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company's Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 would support Linux-based virtual machines.

"It is strictly a business decision," Gould said, of the JBoss deal. "But it also reflects that Microsoft is losing some of its phobia about actually talking to an open source company and having GPL [General Public License] code floating around a Microsoft server somewhere."

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