November 17, 2003 9:08 AM PST

JBoss to indemnify customers

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In an effort to offer the same guarantees as commercial software companies, open-source Java server software company JBoss Group will indemnify its customers from legal liability associated with its software.

JBoss Group announced on Monday that it will offer customers of its support services indemnity against possible legal actions. JBoss Group distributes the JBoss Java server software for free and charges customers for services related to installing and maintaining the open-source software.

The move to indemnify customers from potential patent infringements or copyright problems is intended to give customers more peace of mind when deciding whether to go with open-source software. Typically, commercial software companies provide legal protection to their customers, said Bob Bickel, JBoss Group's vice president of strategy and corporate development.


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"We've been reviewing our entire offering and we're trying to make us competitive and better than commercial offerings. This is just another step along the way in getting equal terms so that commercial customers feel comfortable with open source," Bickel said.

The issue of legal indemnification has been highlighted by SCO's lawsuit against IBM, which claims that IBM illegally misappropriated SCO's Unix technology and built it into Linux. Hewlett-Packard has offered indemnification for its Linux customers and Sun Microsystems offers the same for customers of some of its open-source products.

JBoss will offer indemnification only to its paying customers.

While JBoss Group is trying to allay customers' legal concerns, the company itself has been caught in a legal squabble with a competitive open-source project called Geronimo. Formed under the auspices of the Apache Software Foundation, Geronimo has set out to release a Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application server similar to JBoss' J2EE-based software.

Earlier this month, JBoss Group lawyers sent the Apache Software Foundation a letter expressing concern that the Geronimo project may have inappropriately used or derived code from JBoss' own software.

"It has come to our attention that portions of the Geronimo program appear to be virtually identical or substantially similar to JBoss program source code," wrote David Byer, a lawyer with the firm Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault. The letter offered several examples.

"In addition to examples of what appears to be direct copying of JBoss source code in the Geronimo code base, JBoss also has observed a significant number of architectural similarities, similar naming conventions, and other indications that portions of Geronimo may constitute derivative works of JBoss source code," the letter said. Byer called on the Apache Software Foundation to bring the Geronimo software in compliance with JBoss' software license and to take action to prevent "improper copying from occurring in the future."

Part of the conflict stems from the different licenses that the JBoss Group and the Apache Software Foundation use. The Apache license allows derivative works to be kept as proprietary software or released back to the community. JBoss uses the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), which requires any changes that are distributed to be made public.

The Apache Software Foundation was not immediately available for comment on the JBoss letter.

Speaking on Friday, JBoss' Bickel said that the letter to the Apache Software Foundation was never intended to be made public and said the conflict has been blown out of proportion. "We're not going to press a lawsuit or take anyone to court. We're just making people aware of this as an issue, which is something that people need to be sensitive to," Bickel said.

Addressing any legal questions about open source and its own software has been one of several moves JBoss has made in the past several months to make its software more attractive to corporate customers.

Last month, JBoss began offering its customers round-the-clock support services and initiated a partner program. Integration software company Iona Technologies said last week that it will offer support services to its customers that use JBoss software.

JBoss has also said it will try to get certification from Java steward Sun Microsystems that the JBoss software adheres to the J2EE specification. Bickel said that JBoss remains committed to getting the certification but, after many months, has still not successfully negotiated with Sun to license the certification testing programs.

Bickel said that company hopes to release JBoss version 4.0 in the first quarter of next year.

 

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