September 27, 2005 6:54 AM PDT

Microsoft, JBoss link server software

Two companies on opposite sides of the open-source philosophical divide, Microsoft and JBoss, have signed a partnership to make their server software work together better.

Microsoft and JBoss said Tuesday they'll work to make JBoss' Java application server software work well with Microsoft's Windows and higher-level software.

The companies said they will continue to compete in the market for application servers, which link Web applications to back-end databases and other systems. Products from the two companies are similar in purpose, but very different in design. The JBoss application server, based on Java, runs on Windows, Linux and Unix systems. Microsoft's Windows-based application server tools, based on the company's .Net programming model, are part of its Windows Server operating system.

But the companies will work to better integrate directory services, database software and systems management tools. That means that customers using both Java and .Net-based programs will be able to more easily manage and link their systems.

Microsoft has struggled to deal with the arrival of open-source software, which is collaboratively developed with a code-sharing process that stands in stark contrast to the secrecy that shrouds most of the products from Microsoft and other proprietary software makers.

After several attacks on the intellectual-property foundations and the methods, quality and cost of open-source software, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has begun a more cooperative phase.

For instance, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer once famously called Linux and the open-source philosophy a "cancer." More recently, Ballmer has changed the tone of his rhetoric: "We compete with products. We don't compete with movements," he said in a recent interview with CNET News.com.

Microsoft and JBoss on Tuesday said the collaboration makes sense, given that many customers use products from both companies. "JBoss is experiencing tremendous growth and is a driving force of consolidation of the Java space," said Bill Hilf, Microsoft's director of platform technology strategy. And Shaun Connolly, vice president of product management at JBoss, said that more than half of its customers use the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System product on Windows.

Hilf is careful to emphasize that the partnership doesn't signal technological or philosophical changes at Microsoft. The company's negotiation with JBoss "wasn't a conversation about adopting open-source or endorsing Java," he said in an interview.

Still, Hilf added, "It wasn't a trivial exercise to have this discussion." What the decision boiled down to was Microsoft's desire to help those who use Windows as a foundation for their wares. The JBoss deal is "probably one of the strongest proof points to date that different types of business and development models can exist on Windows," he said.

The partnership began more than a year ago with Hilf--a former Linux executive at IBM--meeting with JBoss founder Marc Fleury. Discussions got more serious this August at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, Hilf said.

Most of JBoss' software is governed by the Lesser General Public License, or LGPL, created by the Free Software Foundation. Like its cousin, the General Public License, the LGPL permits anyone to see, modify and redistribute JBoss software and its underlying source code, as long as they share any modifications that they distribute. However, unlike the GPL, the LGPL makes it possible to tightly integrate LGPL code with software that uses proprietary code.

Specifically, the companies expect their collaboration to achieve interoperability in several domains:

• Microsoft's Active Directory--so the companies' software has integrated sign-on and federated identity management mechanisms.

• Web services standards, which govern how applications employ services available on a group of often loosely connected servers.

• Management with Microsoft Operations Manager.

• SQL Server, Microsoft's database software, with JBoss' Hibernate and Enterprise JavaBeans software.

No money is changing hands under the deal, but both companies will devote more developers to the cooperative work, Hilf said. Fruits of the cooperation are expected to begin showing within a year.

The companies announced the deal on the first day of BEA World, a conference sponsored by a mutual rival of Microsoft and JBoss, BEA Systems.

IBM is another competitor in the proprietary software domain, while open-source competitors include the Apache Software Foundation and Red Hat. Sun Microsystems offers a combination of proprietary and open-source software in the market, but eventually is moving it all toward open-source.

One company not likely to benefit from the partnership is IBM, whose WebSphere product competes with JBoss, said Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady. "It basically gives JBoss more momentum and credibility," he said. "That in turn has negative implications for WebSphere."

IBM agrees open-source application servers have a place in the market for smaller installations and, to that end, acquired GlueCode Software, whose product is based on Apache's Geronimo application server. "We saw demand for this open-source model for departmental applications, and made our play there with Gluecode," spokesman Scott Sykes said. Big Blue also supports Geronimo directly.

Microsoft also has buried the hatchet with Sun in a partnership that includes sign-on and identity management software.

JBoss has been working on alliances of its own to ease support issues for customers, Connolly said. Recent JBoss partners include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Unisys and Novell.

 

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