Domino users are facing a clear choice when it comes to working with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE): plunk down up to $35,000 for commercial platforms like IBM's WebSphere, or get an open-source J2EE platform for free.
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It sounds like an easy decision, but it's one that users are having trouble making.
Lotus is pushing WebSphere as a natural fit for developing and deploying J2EE applications to run with Domino 6. It has said the latest Domino version will have back-end connectors to WebSphere that will make it worth the cost.
Meanwhile, The JBoss Group -- a collective of open-source coders -- claims its free platform rivals the capabilities of WebSphere Application Server and BEA Systems' WebLogic Server. The industry's other leading J2EE Web application server, WebLogic Server, costs $17,000 per CPU for its Premium Edition.
But one JBoss user said that, with a free product, you often get what you pay for.
"JBoss has a scarcity of business partners," said Pronam Chatterjee, a Domino programmer/analyst at Computer Enterprises Inc. (CEI), a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based software consulting company. "And that concerns me."
Chatterjee has consulted for large enterprises like United Airlines, Deutsche Bank and the accounting firm Crowe Chizek & Company.
Without a confidence-inspiring list of business partners, Chatterjee said, JBoss will be a tough sell to his enterprise customers and corporate brass.
"It has been very difficult to convince the CIOs and senior IT architects to go the open-source way," Chatterjee said.
Chatterjee said he has no problem using the open-source code on his own "for development purposes. It is much easier to fire up my laptop and run JBoss on it than WebSphere or WebLogic. JBoss' memory footprint is incredibly small, and its runs very efficiently."
But some IT managers will likely resist JBoss because it bares the stigma of open-source code: that it is essentially unsupported, hard to use, and fixed only sporadically by part-time programmers.
IBM, meanwhile, is playing upon users' anxieties about open-source code, in its territorial match with the JBoss Group.
The company said Domino 6 will support both the JBoss and WebSphere Web applications servers, while taking shots at JBoss' open-source origins.
"Any J2EE application server will work with Domino," an IBM spokesman told SearchDomino. "Customers can choose the solution based on their individual requirements for vendor strength, supportability and integration."
Statements by Domino 6 developers about open-source code have been sharper.
"The main difference between the open-source projects and the commercial products," suggests IBM's Jeff Calow on the Lotus Developer Domain Web site, "[include] administration, scalability, testing, customer support, and cost."
Marc Fluery, president of the JBoss Group, rejects Calow's comparisons, especially his points about administration and testing.
Fluery said IBM is merely trying to play on users' perceptions about open-source code -- that nobody supports it, and nobody can be held accountable when something goes wrong.
"With 150,000 downloads per month, JBoss is always under immense stress testing, 24x7 the world over." Fluery said. "When we break something, we know immediately,"
The JBoss Group also posts daily the results of its own user testing at JBoss.org.
"We provide quality assurance beyond what proprietary vendors care to do, or really can afford," Fluery said.
Fluery said JBoss achieves greater stability for infrastructure, and is actually laying the groundwork for J2EE administration.
He adds that the JBoss Group is helping to develop JMX, which is fast becoming the standard for J2EE administration and management.
"JBoss has supported the JMX standard [Java Management eXtensions] for the last two years," Fluery said.
CEI's Chatterjee supports Fluery's argument that JBoss has everything administrators need in a standards-based J2EE platform.
And Chatterjee claims IBM has a history of plugging proprietary add-ons into its products that "make them difficult to manage."
But even as JBoss is proving itself to be a heavyweight J2EE platform, Chatterjee said it remains a featherweight when it comes to support and documentation.
"Documentation has been poor," Chatterjee said. "Unless support & documentation improves, it may not be possible to deploy applications on JBoss in a production environment."
But the JBoss Group is offering support for its free platform. The cost? $10,000 for a one-year contract.
Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton Mass.
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