Open-source app servers are 'competitive force'

Organisations shopping for a Java application server will soon have more reasons to look at open-source software, with no less...

Organisations shopping for a Java application server will soon have more reasons to look at open-source software, with no less than three projects expected to be certified compatible with Sun Microsystems' enterprise Java standard by the end of the year.

Geronimo, a project of the Apache Software Foundation, and Jonas, overseen by Europe's ObjectWeb consortium, have begun testing their products against Sun's Java 2, Enterprise Edition 1.4 test suites.

Geronimo hopes to be certified as J2EE-compliant by August, while Jonas is aiming for the second half of the year.

JBoss has been being cagey about when it expects to complete Sun's compatibility tests, but the company is likely to announce certification as early as next month, according to John Rymer, a vice president and industry analyst with Forrester Research.

While Geronimo is still quite immature - the project was launched just nine months ago - all three offerings aim to provide businesses with a low-cost alternative to commercial application servers from the likes of BEA Systems, IBM and Oracle. At the very least, customers should be able to use the open-source products to negotiate better pricing deals from their primary suppliers, Rymer said.

"Open-source application servers are a bona fide competitive force in the market for J2EE application servers," he added.

J2EE certification is not a prerequisite for enterprise use, as shown by JBoss, which already has thousands of paying customers. But it can lend added credibility to open-source projects, particularly for IT executives still unsure about the open source model.

The specification also ensures a degree of interoperability between products from the various Java suppliers. If a customer writes to one application server and decides later to switch to a different platform, if both are J2EE-certified, the amount of porting work should be relatively light.

Last year, Sun altered the licensing terms for its compatibility test suites, allowing open-source software to become certified for the first time. It also provided free licences for the test suites for nonprofit groups like the Apache Software Foundation and ObjectWeb. JBoss was required to pay for its test suites, leading to a lengthy dispute with Sun, which is likely to have delayed its certification.

Analysts do not see customers deserting their commercial vendors in droves any time soon. Aside from having existing software investments with them, many IT executives remain wary of open source because of concerns about the availability of support, and about the long-term viability of software not backed by a large, established supplier.

It remains to be seen when the three open-source projects will complete their J2EE certification, which involves running thousands of tests. Meanwhile, commercial suppliers are taking steps to reduce the competitive threat. Sun recently released a free, no-frills version of its application server that is proving popular among developers.

James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service

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