Jonas’ future under Red Hat-JBoss combo questioned

The ObjectWeb-generated open source application server may be a victim of the proposed merger. By James Niccolai

Red Hat’s planned acquisition of JBoss has raised questions about the future of the Jonas application server, the best-known project to emerge from Europe’s ObjectWeb open source software consortium.

Red Hat joined ObjectWeb three years ago and helped the non-profit group get Jonas certified as compliant with Sun’s Java Enterprise Edition 1.4 specification. It now distributes a version of Jonas as the Red Hat Application Server, part of its effort to move beyond Linux operating system sales.

Matthew Szulik, Red Hat’s chairman and chief executive officer, says his company has made “a significant investment in Jonas, and we expect that to continue”.

Analysts were less optimistic. If Red Hat does acquire JBoss, which is the most widely used open source application server, it’s unlikely that it will devote significant resources to Jonas as well, or that it will want to support two application servers for customers, says Ovum analsyt Laurent Lachal.

“This is bad news for Jonas,” he says.

Red Hat has been disappointed that Jonas has not been more widely adopted, Lachal says. Besides JBoss, its main open source competitor is the Apache Group’s Geronimo application server, which is backed by IBM.

Red Hat will support customers who adopted its Jonas distribution for a while. “But as soon as it can, it will migrate them to JBoss”, Lachal predicts.

Michael Goulde, a senior analyst with Forrester, agrees.

“Longer term, it doesn’t make sense for Red Hat to support something that competes with JBoss,” he says.

Still, the deal could have some benefits for ObjectWeb, which has grown to include more than 50 software projects since it was founded in 2002 by France Télécom, French open source developer Bull and the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control.

Red Hat and JBoss may still turn to ObjectWeb for other middleware components to build out their software stacks, Goulde says.

“I’m sure that Red Hat and JBoss will continue working with ObjectWeb, as the ObjectWeb platform will be important in several parts of the world,” he says.

ObjectWeb is optimistic about the deal.

“We think it’s excellent news,” says François Letellier, a member of the group’s executive committee. Since Red Hat is an ObjectWeb member and its chief technology officer, Paul Cormier, sits on ObjectWeb’s board, the deal could open a “privileged communications channel” between ObjectWeb and JBoss, he says.

“One possibility is that we’ll work on convergence, either on the code base or on compatibility between the different platforms,” he says.

Still, he acknowledges that Red Hat’s membership doesn’t oblige it to donate any JBoss code to ObjectWeb.

The consortium says that some large companies are using Jonas in production, although the ones it has named publicly, like France Télécom, are all ObjectWeb founders.

“Red Hat is one distribution channel for Jonas, but it’s not the only one,” Letellier says.

“It’s been around for some time before Red Hat and it has a life aside from that, so it will continue regardless of what happens.”

Ovum’s Lachal also doesn’t expect Jonas to disappear, but says that without Red Hat’s full support it’s unlikely to achieve widespread adoption.

“It’s not a question of technology — it’s a question of who does a better job of marketing their product and getting people to use it,” he says.

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