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Q&A: JBoss CEO Marc Fleury

Perhaps no other Web server software company has had such an impact on the industry in such a short amount of time as JBoss Group. Back in 1999, founder and CEO Marc Fleury assembled a team of developers to create an open source Java-based application server. With an average of 250,000 downloads per month, JBoss says it has the bragging rights to the most downloaded Java-based application server in the industry.

The Atlanta-based company's momentum mirrors other open source products, which continue to gain traction in commercial venues. Its free price tag has also made it an attractive development platform for J2EE-based applications.

But it's the organization's business practices that have caused a stir with tech heavyweights. Forrester Research points to JBoss as just another sign that open source will erode licensing fees for application servers and that cost-conscious software vendors are expected to ditch expensive licensing deals with companies like IBM , BEA and Sun Microsystems to gain access to source code and to save money.

Internetnews.com sat down with Fleury to find out more about his long-term strategy.

Q: To what do you attribute your success?

The Net. We're really witnessing first hand the power of the Net. Free software gives to the Net. The Net is based on free software -- by and large. Free software in the sense that I mean open source software and vice versa. The Net has enabled a new mode of development of which we are only now measuring the real impact. Adrian is out of the U.K. Bill is out of Boston. Julien is out of France. Alex is out of the Ukraine. I'm in Atlanta. And because of the Net we can get together with much lower cost than the traditional R&D structure for a traditional software company and put out kick-ass software for free. The Net gives us distribution. The Net gives us marketing. The Net gives us customers. Pre-Net, you needed a venture capital firm. We do away with that initial investment. So by the time we reach 30 years as a company, you almost have to apply a factor of a hundred to our size to compare us to traditional software companies.

Q: How do you describe your people?

The company itself is a tightly knit group. Scott Stark is the CTO and my first business partner. But we're turning from a loose company into a real company. We have a mature product and a massive user base and a growing customer base.

The open source environment is brutally competitive. The guys who make it with JBoss Group are people who can really hold their own code and go through a grueling peer review. That's the best training ground. It's a small team that puts together a modular, very cutting edge approach. The technology is sexy and to some degree, the business of it is sexy and that motivates them.

Q: The business is sexy?

Unlike other open source groups that you just do your part and leave, in JBoss, you do your project, you are ego driven in the beginning and bit by bit you become driven by other motivating forces. You stick with it and you become driven by the fact that we are a technical professional open source group of developers.

Q: You once said that your software is more like Microsoft's than Sun's. Do you still stand by that claim?

I made that statement again at our boot camp and I got a few people were freaked out. But the simple truth is that we're Java and we've been around for five years. What your operating system is, we really don't care. Of our customers, ten percent are Linux. So if you are Solaris or Windows, from that standpoint we couldn't care less about embracing a certain operating system. Why? Because it's open source? We are the real professional open source. As far as religious open source goes, heck, we are inventing it as well.

We are the modern open source movement and we're not tied to Linux. In fact, we love Solaris and we love Windows. Whatever platform gives us the best Java Virtual Machine... that is where we go. If tomorrow, Linux has the best JVM our customers will run it and we'll recommend it. But today that is not the case.

Q: Compare your business model to, say, IBM's.

IBM is a specific case. We can't say they have the best product on the market, yet they are number one. It's a testimony to their size. People go with IBM because they are so big. They'll be around as a company long after you and I are dead. We have tremendous respect for just their market presence and their ability to make policy. Where we fit in is that we're small. We're agile. We're experts. So the accounts that I am most proud of are for two accounts that we've won from IBM. For a company to choose a small consultancy over IBM is a big thing.

Q: With your newfound popularity, are you in danger of opening yourselves up as an acquisition target or are you committed to staying pure open source?

We are being approached by a ton of people. Not necessarily in an acquisition fashion. There are a lot of partnerships we are working on. As for remaining independent, I speak for myself, I want to stick with this company for a long time. We are business guys, but I have no interest in selling out fast. Money is a motivator but it's not why we got started. From a market standpoint, we do have a position where we can dictate what kinds of technology makes it to our 2 million downloaders.

Q: Recently you've adopted an aspect-oriented programming (AOP) framework for your software. How significant is this?

It's a significant change in our marketing position. It's significant in our direction and really an independence from the J2EE specification. But technically speaking it is not a big innovation for us. We've been doing it for quite some time.

Others do it with the framework and the GUI and they'll say 'oh the GUI will hide everything. We go more the Microsoft approach and start with a clean framework and if the base framework has this clean separation between aspects -- that is the behavior -- then the rest will be simpler on top of it. We're saying J2EE is great, but it is complex. Lets focus here on the ISV developers. They get it. They want these individual features a la carte. Like in J2EE, but without the complexity. And they like interacting one on one with the system through aspects. It's natural. In fact, that is Microsoft's .NET approach with Meta Data when you say the transactional framework is exactly the same. The remote framework is the same. These are very intuitive constructs. Where we are new in the Java camp is we are really saying to all the app server vendors is we found it and we are not waiting for you guys to do the spec. And we know all of our developers get it.

Q: Speaking of the Java Camp, are you still looking to get that controversial J2EE certification Sun is requesting?

We are still in negotiations. I'm pretty confident we will get certified.

Q: I heard you recently ran into Java luminary James Gosling. How did that go?

[Laughs] It was great. As a Java geek, I have a candle in my bedroom that I light for James every night. Seriously though, we discussed the future of Java and where we are running into the limitations of the language and byte-code manipulation. He asked about the developers that had left the company. It was nice to see that he is following our progress.