Sun, JBoss Inch Towards ‘SCSL’ Settlement

A longstanding licensing debate between Sun Microsystems and open source firm JBoss Group is soon coming to an end, according to the man helping drive the negotiations.

Bob Bickel, who was recently named as JBoss vice president of strategy and corporate development, tells the two sides have all but “closed the gaps.”

“The only thing hanging out now is in their standard SCSL [Sun Community Source Licensing] contract,” Bickel said. “As soon as that happens, all of our releases going forward have to be certified.”

And while the two sides are in discussions, a spokesperson for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun said the company would not comment on any negotiations with its partners but did say the SCSL licensing could be broken up into its separate components.

The Atlanta-based application server software maker has been embroiled in a conflict with Sun over that company’s next version of J2EE (v1.4), of which JBoss had previously refused to conduct compatibility tests and pay a “multiple 6-figure” licensing fee.

JBoss’ deal with Sun would only include its test compatibility kit and not its traditional source code licensing.

Bickel knows the drill well. After stints at Lucent, Bluestone and most recently Hewlett-Packard, JBoss founder and CEO Marc Fleury brought Bickel onboard to help his company remain in good graces with Sun. Bickel identified four different issues that were sticking points in the negotiations: incompatibility with SCSL, the Closed Source Test Kit, JBoss’ app server getting too big to ignore and of course… money.

While the exact figure is being kept a secret, Bickel implied, “it’s a fair amount of money for what is a fairly small company,”

“Sun certainly didn’t cut us a break,” he said. “They have a difficult time getting their arms around open source. It’s not their business model. There is such a thing as incompatible business models and hopefully we have found those creative ways of dealing with that.”

But instead of holding a bake sale, Bickel says JBoss approached four or five companies, which in turn are showering the company with cash.

“What is happening is that our software is getting bundled in systems by vendors that have a vested interest in what is happening,” Bickel said.

Bickel did not name names, but Apple Computer and webMethods are two top vendors that are tapping into JBoss’ platform.

In its latest development, JBoss Tuesday inked a deal with Sacramento, Calif.-based Unify as a distribution partner. Unify has joined the JBoss Preferred Affiliates Program. An evaluation version of Unify NXJ, bundled with JBoss, is available for download.

The other main sticking point centers on the Closed Source Test Kit. Bickel said Sun insisted on keeping it semi-proprietary and that JBoss Group will do certification on the major dot-releases. The nightly builds would be exempt from that certification.

“So the tests will not be open to our open source community which is sad for our open source community,” Bickel said.

Sun does supply access to the source code for several of its technologies via “click wrap” license agreements. There are no source code fees for any of the Sun technologies offered under these licenses.

Following in the footsteps of the Linux operating system and Apache web server, JBoss is the third major open source project to achieve significant adoption in enterprise IT. The company boasts its Web application server software has already been downloaded 2 million times at an estimated rate of 250,000 times per month and are believed to be the most widely used application server, even above IBM or BEA, according to some industry publications.

Recently, JBoss took the wraps of the developer edition of JBoss 4.0, which is the company’s first attempt at an aspect-oriented programming (AOP) framework. JBoss executives say the developer tool is an attempt to move “Beyond J2EE.”

If the Sun licensing deal were to close in the next month or two, Bickel said the current 4.0 version would not change and that the 4.1 or 4.2 revisions would be the first to carry the new licensing.

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