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Microsoft and JBoss, kids from opposite sides of the open source tracks, are working together on interoperability of their server software to take on IBM.

The companies will provide assistance and guidance for customers using JBoss with Microsoft's Active Directory, management of JBoss through Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM), they will optimize the performance of EJB 3.0 and the Hibernate object relational/mapping architecture with Microsoft's MySQL database, and provide interoperability between .NET and open source Java web services.

Microsoft and JBoss say they will continue to compete for software developers, but are exploring ways to provide improved interoperability and ensure an optimized experience for customers using JBoss on Windows servers.

Microsoft's decision to support JBoss can be seen through two filters. First, the collaboration is a recognition of JBoss's growing market share, as Bill Hiff, Microsoft director of platform technology and strategy, acknowledges: "JBoss is experiencing tremendous growth and is a driving force of consolidation of the Java market."

Market share is a compelling argument. Microsoft is good at recognizing burgeoning new markets that hold potential and jumping in with either a product launch or an acquisition. In this case, Microsoft will have recognized a significant proportion of Windows developers are building and deploying on JBoss, so it make sense to work with JBoss.

This also fits into a picture of growing support by Microsoft for Linux and open source, as Microsoft recognizes customers are running mixed environments.

Demonstrating Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 supporting Red Hat Linux in April, Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer remarked: "As much as that hurts my eyes [Linux support], I know that's an important capability of the virtual server technology for our customers."

If pure market opportunity were the sole driver at Microsoft, though, then we'd be preparing for a version of Office running on Linux. But it isn't and we ain't.

The second reason for backing JBoss is to help Microsoft beat IBM in the web services and server software market - a strategic goal that happens to suit JBoss's objectives. In May IBM acquired open source application server Gluecode to fill out its WebSphere application server portfolio. Gluecode gives developers a low-priced, light-weight alternative to the full, enterprise-class WebSphere product.

An MS-JBoss axis can help win over developers wobbling between JBoss and the rival Gluecode. It can ensure they continue using Microsoft's management, directory, database software and web services stack instead of switching to alternatives from IBM that are optimized for Gluecode. The deal also clearly helps JBoss fight off the IBM Goliath.

While this is a marriage of convenience for Microsoft and JBoss, the real loser is BEA Systems. BEA has lost application server market share to IBM and seen potential business go to JBoss. Piper Jaffray, the US investment bank, last week said it expects customers to postpone potential purchases of new WebLogic Server licenses until they get a chance to evaluate a new version of Gluecode that is due later this year.

A deal with Microsoft gives JBoss more leverage to put its own name into contention when, previously, customers would have been only choosing between either BEA or Gluecode. ®

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