JBoss hopes to expand 'ownership' of open source

Middleware developer JBoss says it plans to use its war chest of VC money to 'own' key open-source projects, and even applications running on .Net could be in its sights

Open-source middleware developer JBoss Inc. plans to use the $10m (£5.4m) venture capital injection it received in February to expand its 'ownership' of open-source projects, according to founder and chief executive Marc Fleury.

"We are going for ownership of the code bases," said Fleury in an interview with ZDNet UK.

JBoss makes its money from support and services for its eponymous application server, which it distributes for free under an open-source licence. Recently the company has been hiring key developers on specific open-source projects: last October the company hired Gavin King, the mind behind the Hibernate project, a 'persistence engine' which stores Java objects in relational databases. At that time the company had already snapped up Remy Maucherat, the lead developer of Tomcat 5, Julien Viet who developed the Nukes content management system and Bela Ban, creator of JavaGroups.

JBoss calls its business model "Professional Open Source" -- a trademarked term which basically means paying open-source developers to work on their projects, and charging customers for support. "Profession Open Source allows JBoss to grow and recruit the top talent from successful open-source efforts," said Fleury. "It enables developers to work fulltime and become professionals on their own projects."

"We consider something open source when we control x amount of the code base," said Fleury, but declined put a figure on "x". "We control 95 percent of the Hibernate code base," said Fleury, "and 45 percent of Tomcat."

JBoss general manager Sacha Labourey added that the company is not out to hijack open-source projects. "We look at a project, then talk to the lead developers. A side effect is that we aid the project because the developers are then paid by JBoss to push the project."

The model makes a lot of sense for companies looking to use open-source applications in a production environment, say analysts. "It cuts a swathe through the whole support issue around open source," said Ovum senior analyst Bola Rotibi. "The key problem for open source has always been support and how a company can raise issues with the relevant people. How do you escalate a problem with open-source applications? Where do you come in the pecking order? It may depend on how many people raise that particular problem, but what if your problem is specific?"

To date most of the hires have been to work on Java, but Fleury said the company is also considering recruiting developers who work on open-source projects based on Microsoft's .Net architecture. "We will get quite ambitious," said Fleury. "We are big Microsoft fans, and we're very interested in .Net."

In particular, said Fleury, JBoss is becoming increasingly interested in aspect-oriented programming. Aspect-oriented software development is meant to help programmers easily make changes to complex projects with a more modular approach to development. Aspect-oriented tools more clearly separate different functions, allowing developers to make changes that affect one function and then are reflected in other parts of an application.

For example, a Web developer could build an application to fetch data from a packaged application database when a request comes from a corporate portal. As part of that function and others, software engineers could write additional code to log events for auditing purposes. With an aspect-oriented tool, one developer could enhance the logging function, or "aspect", in a single place without having to modify the code that does the database lookup. These changes could be reflected in other places in an application's code where logging was required.

Fleury sees aspect-oriented programming as having a natural affinity with Microsoft's .Net. "In J2EE it is fairly complex," he said. "But Microsoft says middleware should not be intrusive. Aspect-oriented programming can work well with that."