Offense Is the Best Defense: IBM Leads Users to Open Source


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IBM challenges JBoss, BEA Systems, Oracle and IBM's own WebSphere Application Server (WAS) by endorsing the Apache Software Foundation's open-source Geronimo project and acquiring Gluecode Software.

News Analysis


On 10 May 2005, IBM acquired Gluecode. Through the agreement, IBM also acquired the group of lead engineers behind the Apache Geronimo J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) project. In addition, IBM committed to supporting and marketing the Gluecode Standard Edition (SE) open-source suite, including Apache Geronimo and other open-source projects. Gluecode SE will be offered under the IBM open-source license. The Geronimo project remains under the supervision of the Apache Software Foundation.


IBM has declared its support of open-source J2EE by publicly endorsing Apache’s Geronimo project and hiring the lead architects and developers behind Geronimo. By doing so, IBM challenges the current open-source J2EE leader, JBoss (backed by Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Unisys and others), as well as Red Hat, which distributes ObjectWeb JOnAS. This move also puts pressure on commercial J2EE vendors such as BEA, Oracle and SAP to counter IBM’s open-source investment.

Through the acquisition, IBM aims to:

  • Protect IBM’s WAS business by embracing and controlling a challenging trend

  • Slow down the rapidly-growing enterprise adoption of JBoss

  • Test the notion of subscription-based software pricing

To meet these goals, IBM has endorsed open-source J2EE, but positioned it as a low-end departmental alternative to WebSphere Network Deployment. However, this low-end targeting of Geronimo may not hold. The IBM-supported Geronimo characteristics — including low cost of entry, IBM guarantees and support, plans for certified standard offerings, open-source licenses, extensible microkernel architecture, and IBM high-end add-ons — may prove irresistible to many enterprises, but only if these features are also technically excellent.

IBM faces some challenges:

  • The full-fledged IBM Geronimo strategy can only begin with the J2EE certification of Geronimo (which still is not scheduled).

  • Version 1 of Geronimo will have to face well-established competing platforms.

  • Some users may perceive that IBM is limiting its commitment to its core, and turn away from WebSphere.

  • Guiding prospective customers about when to choose which IBM J2EE offering will require specific sales training.

  • Geronimo and WAS are based on different internal architectures and are not easily integrated.

  • Despite the success of IBM's other open-source projects (Eclipse and Linux), some users will still suspect IBM of attempting to control the open-source community.

  • JBoss’s defensive response to this initiative may result in competing Geronimo and JBoss alliances.

Recommendations for Users

  • Recognize the growing enterprise validity of open-source software.

  • Expect gradual technology sharing between WAS and Geronimo.

  • In most cases, delay adoption decisions on Geronimo until it is available and evaluated as a certified J2EE platform.

Analytical Sources: Yefim Natis, Massimo Pezzini and Mark Driver, Gartner Research

Recommended Reading and Related Research

  • "IBM Uses Patents to Lead Open-Source Community" — IBM has cast itself as a benefactor for open-source initiatives with the release of some low-level patents. This move asserts IBM's influence in emerging markets, while minimizing the initial risk to intellectual property. By Yefim Natis and David Mitchell Smith

  • "Predicts 2005: Open-Source Software Proliferates" — Open-source software will expand into a larger universe of applications, in addition to the Linux operating system. This growth will be based on more development cross-fertilization and reduced vendor lock-in. By George Weiss and others

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