IBM, Sun, and "The Community"

May 15th, 2008 by Roy Russo

Being a former member of the JBoss ranks, I can’t help but laugh when I read folks from Sun and IBM endlessly pontificating in the blogosphere about OSS business models and “The Community”’s role. This focus on OSS and “Community” seems to be a new M.O. for both of them, after years of being proprietary vendors, and outright Anti-OpenSource.

So What exactly makes this so funny, and why the about-face?

Sun: You’re great at building hardware – Fantastic and trend-setting hardware that blows away just about everything on the market. Your software has generally sucked. We can’t even measure the amount of suck, its so large. At some point you decided that JBoss was hammering away at your software and figured it would be in your best interest to fight fire-with-fire. ie. throw the software over the wall in to OSS-land and hope for the best. (I won’t even comment on how the (JCP) Java Community Process, is akin to the World Bank, with vendors talking behind closed doors, NDA’s, and little active input from the Java community.)

IBM: You’re a consulting company… err…. “Global Services” Company. Just because you bought that mess Geronimo and throw some developers in the Apache ranks, doesn’t make you a carrier of the OSS torch, but keep blogging and we’ll keep laughing at you.

So how did we all end up in bizarro-world… where Sun and IBM are now the mouth of OSS?

The JBoss impact

JBoss took a big bite out of the industry. BEA (as much as they won’t admit it) crumbled largely because they could not compete with JBoss’ innovation, price, and adoption rate. IBM had their hand forced in to buying Geronimo – a fight fire-with-fire approach. Sun’s organization has always lacked and simply couldn’t compete with JBoss at all, and so it was slowly dying.

… and now the deck is shuffled. Red Hat buys JBoss and proceeds to let the fruit rot on the vine, thereby creating a vaccuum for these two to dive in. Of course, they’re diving in without any clue on how to run an OSS business. Remember, these are the same guys that were on the losing end of the OSS fight for years, and have zero talent in their executive ranks on how to run an OSS business.

There is a vaccum in Java OSS, as Red Hat leadership has been largely impotent – not knowing what to do with JBoss. The JBoss “mouth” in the community is gone and so is their drive. I have hopes that the new leadership inside of Red Hat can clean house – Leave JBoss alone, give it more money, energize the ranks, and PLEASE clean up the mess within Red Hat mangement. There is no reason why Red Hat could not be bigger than Sun and maybe IBM one day, given the proper vision and execution. Red Hat has a large bulls-eye painted on its back, because of its own doing and now has IBM, Sun, Oracle, Canonical, and others aiming at it.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do get annoyed listening to blow-hards talk about “The Community” and how to run an OSS Business, when just a year ago they were both large megacorps intent on fighting OSS (and getting their butts handed to them). I tend to ignore the public discussions they fuel, as they’re largely wrongheaded, and their opinion on OSS business models is backed by zero experience and education. My only advice to the “New Leaders of OSS”, is to perhaps hire some proven OSS talent. Sun did well buying MySQL – perhaps MySQL’s vision can infect Sun. IBM is just utterly clueless as usual, and trying to find a way to push more bus-loads of $400/hr consultants – things never change at Big Blue.

So who should you listen to on OSS Business Models and Community issues these days? The companies that aren’t sucking up all the air in the room, but are quietly making it happen: SugarCRM, SpringSource, Hyperic, Zenoss, Alfresco, Zimbra, MySQL, and Zend. These guys have it right. They’ve been at it for years and have learned how to grow a community and execute on the OSS Business Model (which isn’t a one-shoe-fits-all).

Thats my $0.02. Now grab some popcorn, sit back, and keep reading the Sun/IBM dynamic-duo expouse their pearls of wisdom…

UPDATE: The looniness gets loonier with the IBM guy now advising Sun on how to pull together “like” products in to a “family”. He’s citing WebSphere CE as a success story. Maybe the guy from Sun will respond on the success of JavaDB and we’ll truly have an idiot convention on our hands.

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