JBoss is reorganizing its partner program and considering moves into new types of software, including tools for building rich client interfaces, as it prepares to fend off increased competition from other providers of open-source middleware.
The changes to the JBoss certified partner program are designed to help customers find the most qualified providers in areas such as consulting, training and support services for JBoss products, said Sacha Labourey, the company's general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Until now, the JBoss Authorized Service Partners program, or JASP, was an all-encompassing program that did not distinguish among areas of expertise, making it hard for customers to know who was qualified to provide JBoss consulting services, for example, or to train staff on its software. As a result, service quality levels were inconsistent, Labourey admitted.
JASPs must now meet more stringent requirements to become certified, based on criteria such as how many of their staff are trained on JBoss products. They will also be certified to offer either product support or training services, rather than both. JBoss created a new category of Certified Systems Integrators for companies that offer consulting, integration and support services.
"All partners are not equal, so we are providing guidance about the different levels," Labourey said, adding that the old JASP program was too "one size fits all."
JBoss also introduced certification for vendors, such as Computer Associates International, Novell and Kronos, that embed or bundle JBoss technologies with their products, or who want to certify their products as having been tested to run on JBoss software.
The changes come at a time when JBoss, which established an early lead in the market for open-source application servers, faces mounting competition. Most notably, IBM said last month that it had bought Gluecode Software, which offers training and support for an open-source application server called Apache Geronimo. "The Geronimo-IBM deal is clearly an anti-JBoss move; we have the red light of the laser on us," Labourey said.
In addition, the Java Open Application Server, or JOnAS, developed by Europe's ObjectWeb consortium, was recently certified compliant with Sun Microsystems's J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.4 specification, considered a helpful step for adoption by enterprises. JOnAS also won a distribution deal with Red Hat.
JBoss, in Atlanta, will compete by doing what it does best, Labourey said: Developing good software, and adding to its stack of middleware products, called the Java Enterprise Middleware System, or JEMS. JEMS currently includes its application server, Hibernate persistence engine, jBPM business process management engine and other components.
Labourey would like to expand that list into new fields, including software for building Web-based rich clients, he said.
Developing server-side applications has become easier with Enterprise Java Beans 3.0, but building rich client applications, which allow end users to access data from back-end systems, require too much coding on the part of developers, according to Labourey.
One Web consultant agreed.
"User interface development is really kind of painful," said Brice Dunwoodie, president of Web consulting company Cylogy Inc. "Most techies don't really like it. Not to mention, you tend to do the same thing over and over again. So it makes sense that you have a toolkit that provides a library of widgets that are pretty smart and can be manipulated with server-side code."
At least a dozen "frameworks" for rich client development already exist, including Struts from the Apache Software Foundation, Flex from Macromedia, and XUI (Extensible User Interface) from JWay Group. But the fact there are many is part of the problem, according to Labourey.
"When I see 20 frameworks doing the same thing in the market it's always a bad sign; a standard and some maturity is required," he said.
JBoss may offer a Web client framework, Labourey said, although it has no concrete plans to do so at present. It is also considering adding an integration server to its lineup.
JBoss can extend its product lineup in one of four ways, he said. It can develop the software itself, hire lead developers from an existing project, buy the copyright, trademark, URL and other assets of an existing project, or acquire a company and release the source code for its product.
Labourey said he talked informally about an acquisition with a few small vendors in Europe, "but nothing very aggressive." Such a move would be a first for JBoss, he said.