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SpringSource Offers dm Server to Eclipse

SpringSource wants the Eclipse community to take over ongoing development of its dm Server.

The chief commercial sponsor of the open source Spring Framework project announced on Tuesday that a proposal to make dm Server part of the Eclipse Runtime Project had already been submitted to Eclipse.org under the project name "Virgo."

"We will, of course, continue to be heavily involved," said Adam FitzGerald, director of developer relations at SpringSource, which is a recently acquired subsidiary of VMware.

The dm Server, the kernel, and all its related assets are going into the Virgo project, FitzGerald said, and some of the tools SpringSource developed specifically for the app server, such as the SpringSource Bundler tool and the Eclipse plugin, will also be moved to Eclipse.org. Once the dm Server becomes an Eclipse project, its current license, the GPL, will be replaced by the Eclipse Public License (EPL).

In a blog post, SpringSource CTO Adrian Colyer posed the question he expected everyone to ask: Why is SpringSource making this change? His answer: "[T]o make modular application development a reality for enterprise developers."

"The driving reason behind this decision," FitzGerald said, "is that, although OSGi is a very successful technology, it still hasn't reached mainstream penetration for the average enterprise Java application. And we think that has been a hindrance to the productivity of enterprise Java in general, and to the success of our customers and user base."

The OSGi (Open Services Gateway Initiative) specification provides a common model for writing and deploying applications to local or remote computers in modularized form. Instead of forcing developers to create monolithic applications, the spec facilitates collaboration among many small components.

SpringSource released dm Server, the first OSGi-based Java application server, in October 2008. It was also the only app server specifically designed to run applications developed for the popular Spring Framework in enterprise environments.

The module-based design principles defined by the OSGi have emerged as the de facto means of componentizing enterprise Java, RedMonk analyst Michael Coté told ADTmag.com in an earlier interview.

"I always joke that OSGi is a stackless stack," Coté had said. "Instead of having a huge software stack, like an app server, you break it up into smaller pieces and build up just the components you need--which contrasts quite a bit with the old way of doing enterprise Java, where you'd start with a giant app server and spend a lot of time whittling down to just what you wanted."

But OSGi in its current form is still "a little too tricky for people to use out of the box in an enterprise setting," FitzGerald said.

"OSGi is being adopted by infrastructure vendors building app servers, but its benefits haven't been translated directly to the development community," he said. "We thought that making dm Server an Eclipse project would help the adoption of enterprise OSGi in mainstream enterprise Java applications."

But Forrester analyst John R. Rymer isn't so sure that enterprise developers actually want OSGi.

"The crucial question SpringSource has to answer is, 'Will developers care about OSGi at all?'" he said. "That's very much an open question. If I'm a developer with primary expertise in a vertical industry or a particular problem domain, I don't want to be configuring middleware. I want to define my data structures, my UIs, my process flows--that kind of thing. What we're wondering here at Forrester is what percentage of developers this will really matter to. So far, we see it as a very small percentage."

And the biggest obstacle might simply be the competition, he said.

"This is an alternative app server facing entrenched competitors," he said. "SpringSource is not known as a middleware vendor, and it's just very, very difficult to break into that market."

Still, Rymer applauded SpringSource for taking the open source route. "It's probably their best move," he said. "These guys are old hands at open source, and they do it very well."

SpringSource disclosed the Eclipse plan at the same time it announced the release of dm Server 2.0, which is available now for download.

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