March 21, 2003 7:40 AM PST

Sun gestures toward JBoss

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Java creator Sun Microsystems has made an important compliance test available to JBoss Group, the latest maneuver in an ongoing tussle between the industry giant and the upstart open-source software company.

Sun last week offered JBoss Group the opportunity to license a set of testing tools to see if JBoss software adheres to the Sun-sanctioned Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification, according to Sun executives. If the JBoss Group's Java server software passes the compliance test, it can gain certification of J2EE compliance.

Marc Fleury, founder and president of JBoss Group, confirmed Wednesday that his company and Sun are talking about licensing and certification and said he could not comment further because of confidentiality agreements.

On Friday, JBoss Group's general counsel said the company will continue to pursue negotiations but indicated that JBoss Group has problems with Sun's initial offer, notably the price of the testing software.

Official certification that Java software is compliant with J2EE is important to both software companies and their customers.

One of the key draws of standardized software is that corporations are not tied to a single vendor. For example, a company that writes a billing application using J2EE software and tools should be able to run that program on any J2EE-compliant software without extensive manual coding.

JBoss Group is a commercial company that provides consulting services around JBoss open-source Java software. JBoss itself is a Java application server for building and deploying custom applications. JBoss software is gaining increasing attention, particularly among Java developers, as an open-source alternative to commercial Java application servers.

JBoss Group has not been able to call its software J2EE compliant because it has not gone through the certification tests. But the company asserts that its software is compatible with J2EE because applications written for commercial Java applications servers can be reworked to run on JBoss in a matter of hours or days.

The company tried for more than a year to get certification tests from Sun but did not get any reply until last week, Fleury said. In previous interviews with CNET News.com, Fleury has said that Sun was unwilling to make compliance tests available for business reasons.

"Sun has been stonewalling us" on J2EE compliance testing, Fleury said last month. "Do they really want to acknowledge that a compliant server is free?"

Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist, said Wednesday that making the compliance test available will make it clear that Sun does not want to intentionally obstruct JBoss Group's efforts to gain J2EE compliance.

However, Phipps said he doubts that JBoss software will pass the compliance test. Basing his opinion on public information, he said, JBoss software does not appear to implement all of the J2EE specification.

"I predict that now that we're calling their bluff, they will make up another excuse for not doing the tests," Phipps said.

Sun and other software companies define the J2EE specification in the Java Community Process. In technical committees, companies hammer out agreed-upon additions to the J2EE specification, which serves as a blueprint to write Java server software.

In practice, companies use features, such as clustering, that may tie them to a particular Java server software provider. But Sun and other companies have invested substantially in a common standard and compliance testing, according to analysts.

The testing suite that Sun has made available for license to JBoss Group is for the J2EE 1.4 specification, which is the latest version of the software guidelines. Previously, JBoss Group sought a testing suite for earlier versions of the J2EE software guidelines.

JBoss Group general counsel Larry Rosen said Friday that JBoss Group has spoken to Sun about licensing the suite but said that the price--in the hundreds of thousands of dollars--is "outrageous." Rosen added that the value of the Sun-sanctioned certification has diminished since JBoss Group initially sought compliance tests.

"The value of the certification suite is less than it was before as we've already survived quite handsomely without it," Rosen said. "Now the price is so outrageous that we have to think carefully if we want to allocate people to do that function of performing certification tests and what's it worth to us."

He also said some of the Sun-offered terms regarding future compliance are also inappropriate for an open-source project because community members typically dictate the direction of development.

For its part, Sun said the delay in offering the testing suite was due in part to the fact that Sun needed to construct compliance tests appropriate for open-source projects. Specifically, Sun no longer includes the source code for a reference J2EE implementation in order to avoid potential legal problems between commercial companies and open-source efforts, said Rick Saletta, Sun's group marketing manager for J2EE licensing.

On the question of price, Saletta said that Sun has extended "very generous commercial terms" to JBoss Group.

Saletta called Sun's offer to license the test suite an "olive branch" to JBoss Group and an attempt by Sun to ensure industrywide standards for developing applications.

JBoss Group "has gotten a lot of mileage out of positioning themselves as David and Sun as Goliath, but in actuality they've been doing a standards renegade act," Saletta said. "It's time to get past this and move forward."

 

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