It was only a question. I didn’t expect a fight to break out.
But at the Thursday afternoon keynote on ‘The Future of Java’ at SYS-CON’s Web Services Edge 2003 East Conference in Boston, that’s almost what happened.
The keynote was a panel discussion with some of the best people in the world when it comes to understanding the future of Enterprise Java. On the panel were:
Chief Technology Evangelist - Sun Microsystems
Marc Fleury, Ph.D.
founder and president of JBoss Group
VP, Chief Technology Evangelist - Sonic Software
Dr. Jeff Capone
CTO - Aligo
Director, Technical Evangelism - BEA
After about 30 minutes of general discussion the floor opened to questions. I figured this would be a great chance to get some insight as to why companies should adopt either Open Source or commercially-developed J2EE application servers. So I raised my hand and asked:
“Can you as a panel compare the difference in the value propositions of open source and commercially-developed J2EE application servers?”
At first there was just silence as they looked at each other. Then Marc Fluery said, “I wouldn’t touch that question with a ten-foot pole!” - though true to his style, he immediately followed with “no, actually of course I’ll answer it”.
And Marc then rattled off a series of pretty impressive reasons for Open Source, including:
- Because of their cost structure and the international reach of JBoss Group, they literally have some of the best developers in the world working on the project.
- They support the J2EE standard, though they are not tied to it for marketing or business reasons, and they have implemented features not mandated by the J2EE standard in order to build a better product.
- Because they have such great developers and are driven by nothing other than technical reasons, they are actually able to innovate and extend the capabilities of J2EE containers. He gave examples where some of their research is considered as being world class. Others on the panel agreed with Marc on this point.
But both Simon Phipps (from Sun) and Tyler Jewell (of BEA) cited sources indicating that the actual license costs were only a part of the total cost for developing applications. Tyler indicated 1) that companies usually spent about 6 times what they spent for licensing on support and services, and 2) that BEA’s professional services rates were actually cheaper than those of the JBoss Group anyway.
Tyler then ask Marc if the JBoss Group would consider setting their professional service rates to be 6 times their license costs (which, of course, was a joke since JBoss is Open Source and free…).
Simon Phipps spent some time describing Sun’s commitment to Open Source technologies (which I agree have been very significant). Upon hearing Simon describe the Net Beans technologies that Sun has been supporting, Marc Fleury lifted his hand to his mouth and made a funny sound not unlike a sick duck quacking.
One of the points that Simon (from Sun) made in support of commercial products is that they were more likely to be certified as supporting the J2EE standards. (Commercial companies generally pay Sun to license the tools used to ‘certify’ products as ‘J2EE-compliant’.) With Open Source projects it was likely that they didn’t do so - and that since Open Source projects were developed by a team of developers for whom “standard compliance” may not be as important as performance or other technical features, it was possible that the Open Source project may diverge from the standard and leave users as locked in to a single platform “as if they’d used .NET”.
Simon also mentioned that Sun had offered to make the toolset for J2EE certification available to JBoss and challenged Marc on-stage to get JBoss certified as compliant.
Marc discussed how JBoss was actually hoping to feed some of their extentions back into the J2EE standard. He said that improvements to performance and capabilities were important - and that standards compliance for its own sake didn’t always result in the best products (”remember CORBA?”, he asked).
Tyler (from BEA) also added that his company provides phone support 24 hours a day all around the world (and generally in the local language).
As time ran out on the session and people began filing out of the auditorium bound for other sessions and tutorials, the panel discussion stayed heated. I heard people calling for them to ‘take it off-line!.
I guess in the end I took from it that while software being free and open source is good, that may or may not mean that it’s the most cost-effective solution for your company. But I also walked away certain that innovation in the industry was as likely to come from the Open Source sector as it was from anywhere else - if not more likely.
In the end, you need to compare the options for yourself and make the decision based on all the needs of your business.
If you have questions, though, I’d recommend not asking this group. You might end up having to pull them apart.