There’s a pretty good discussion going on here at Dana’s ZDNet blog regarding Fleury’s comments.

The general view is that:

  1. Fleury is not a traditional manager, but rather a programmer at heart, so give him some slack when he speaks his mind about Red Hat management.
  2. JBoss and Red Hat have two very different development methodologies & communities.

Let’s discuss the 2nd one further. While both Linux & JBoss are licensed under the GPL, the major difference is the community surrounding both projects.

If we look at the Linux community, we find several competing vendors working together to advance the various Linux-related projects. By doing so, each vendor (who pays for employees to work full-time on these projects) is sharing the cost of building a solid product. The net result is like everyone contributing $5 to R&D, but getting a product that’s received $500 in R&D investments. Good for everyone, especially the vendors who are paying their employees to work on these projects. This model works because there is no central vendor who is exclusively benefiting from contributions from individual developers or 3rd party vendors. And when contributors assign copyrights to their works, they do so to a foundation, not a commercial entity, who may choose to license that work under a non-OSI-compliant license (i.e. a commercial license). Basically, there is a vibrant community around Linux because there is no commercially driven entity ruling over the project.

Unfortunately, very little of the above holds for the JBoss case. For the most part, JBoss products are developed by JBoss employees. There is no real community of individual developers or 3rd party companies working on JBoss products. And let’s be honest, to quote Tim O’Brien of O’Reilly: “It’s tough to build a real community when you have paid committers and unpaid contributors developing code under (L)GPL with the original copyright assigned to the corporate entity that funds the effort.” It worked in the case of Linux because the early work was done by individuals, so everybody was equal. Then, Linux attracted vendor attention, and most of the leading developers/community participants got hired by vendors seeking to advance Linux. And again, (almost) everybody was equal. The individual contributors that aren’t ‘equal’, continue to contribute because they get much more value out of Linux than the work they put in.

Dana suggests: “Changing the subject from what Fleury said, or what he said he wanted, to making the JBOSS community more open and vibrant may be the right way for RedHat to launch its discussion of this internally.”

But, that’s really tough to do at this stage in the game. Community is hard to build in the best of situations. It’s next to impossible when you want to maintain control. (Ahem…Sun)

Imagine that IBM had decided to launch the Eclipse project under IBM control and required that copyrights to contributions be assigned back to IBM. Where would Eclipse be today?

The fact that Fleury was expecting greater R&D investments after being acquired should make us think twice about the common belief that open source development is efficient because everyone benefits from the work of everyone else.  This is really only true if there is a community. A true open source project, shouldn’t be classified on license alone, but more importantly, the community contributions that the project is able to attract. A truly open community benefits from community effort. (Mostly) Everything else is commercial development done out in the open.