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Enterprise support and that Sun "take over"

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Since it changed its name from Interface21 towards the end of 2007, open source tools developer SpringSource has been quick to capitalise on its position in open source.

The first version of the Rod Johnson-devised Spring Framework was released just four years ago, in March 2004, but since then has quickly attracted an army of developers and - on the back of that - support from all the leading tools and middleware vendors eager to have developers build using their software.

In late 2007 SpringSource joined other open source commercial outfits by planting a flag in the enterprise software market. The company announced Spring Integration - its strategy for enterprise application integration.

In the last month, SpringSource upgraded its popular Java-based Spring Framework with a mouth-watering version for .NET and introduced Spring Dynamic Modules (DM) to make it easier to use OSGi.

The company has also struck key deals, notably collaborating with consulting giant Capgemini and the acquisition of Apache support specialist Covalent Technologies.

SpringSource chief executive Rod Johnson told Register Developer the growth of open source in large enterprises offers excellent opportunities for suppliers that can get it right. This we know. It's the "getting it right" part that's the challenge and that has frustrated so many start-ups that launched with grandiose plans.

Johnson, though, clearly thinks things will be different for SpringSource.

"You have to be confident about your software. If you are, then you welcome the way the open source world works. Enterprises can try out new software without the need to invest, so if what you are offering is good you will get rapid adoption," Johnson said.

To make a success of open source in the enterprise market, potential suppliers must be well organized, according to Johnson. "Once you have a large community where a lot of people are not going to pay you any money, you have to be able to deliver good [levels of] support for which you can charge subscription fees. But it is not only support - you need to find ways to add value to subscription services."

That might account for SpringSource's decision to support Oracle's RAC out of the gate. SpringSource has zeroed in on a clear market that's growing and promoted by a major, well-funded, vendor - Oracle.

That thinking would also account for the Covalent acquisition.

Covalent isn't an automatic recipe for success, though, and Johnson envisages challenges. Among these, the ability to combine the tools in the Spring Framework with the Covalent's Apache server technologies to create a simple, efficient platform for enterprise development.

"There will be an evolutionary process to bring our respective products together and a big part of this is to modernize Java-based developments. Remember J2EE is getting on for ten years old now and there is lots of unnecessary baggage that makes systems too complex. At the same time the business requirements are changing - organizations want to break down the silos and create applications which are not bloated."

That's a message Johnson at voiced QCon in San Francisco, California, last November, where - participating in a panel on the future of Java - the Spring founder supported the idea of cleaning Java of unused APIs, which he feels make the JDK too large.

There is some evidence the emphasis in use of open source software by enterprises is shifting away from infrastructure towards application development. This could be to SpringSource's benefit following the Covalent takeover. Covalent has an impressively large enterprise customer base that provides a potential market for SpringSource's development tools.

Johnson has said, though, the Covalent acquisition was also partly a defensive move by SpringSource to avoid a potential takeover by Sun Microsystems, who this month bought open source database MySQL.

That's an odd statement, given the differences in size between the two companies and their spread of interests. Johnson says, though, while he has good relations with Sun he believes the company has some work to do building bridges with the community.

"We think trust is so important in open source and one of the things that attracted us to Covalent was the way it has built trust from the open source community. I think Sun should be building relationships. It could for example improve its relationship with Apache and Eclipse where there has been some tension," Johnson said.®

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