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A Different Road To Springness: SpringSource Acquires G2One

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[img_assist|nid=5905|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=86|height=100][img_assist|nid=5906|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=71|height=100]Today, SpringSource announce yet another important milestone in it's rise as one of the biggest players in the Enterprise Java arena with the acquisition of G2One, the company behind Groovy and Grails.

I spoke with Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource and Graeme Rocher, CTO and co-founder of G2One to discuss the announcement and what it means for developers and the companies involved. As well as discussing the announcement we talked about SpringSource's inclusion in the JCP committee and the possibilties of going public in the future. 

James Sugrue: What are SpringSource announcing today?

Rod Johnson: SpringSource is announcing that they are aquiring G2One, the company behind Grails and Groovy technologies. This is something that we are pretty excited about because firstly the interest in and the community around Grails is growing pretty much explosively. So we've seen growth in the grails community of about 10X in the last year. In fact, now it's one of the biggest communities that is out there in Enterprise Java. There's around 70,000 downloads of Grails a month. We're excited about that community angle.

We also see that there's increasing interest not merely in Enterprise Java the industry wide, but also interest in dynamic languages as an alternative, or a compliment to strongly typed languages like Java. We're very excited that now in terms of the Spring component model and application platform that we have overall, we will have a strong choice that enables people to take advantage of the Spring component model using a dynamic language, namely Groovy, and in the context of the complete productivity platform in Grails that builds on a dynamic language.

Thirdly, we think Grails is a very good and interesting technology. It demonstrates many of the productivity advantages that you might find with a Ruby on Rails, but it actually does that without throwing away the benefits of the Java platform. There's a great deal of potential benefits there. You can enjoy the benefits of dynamic languages such as improved productivity, rapid development tools for getting started, but you can do all of that without throwing away the gains that you make from using the Java platform.

Sugrue: It sounds very interesting. Do you think it's a different direction or a sign of the times?

Johnson: I think it is partly a sign of the times, I don't believe it is at all a different direction. I think the one thing that SpringSource has shown throughout it's history is that we have steadily expanding our footprint in terms of what we are offering to our developers and customers. For example, SpringSource has gradually taken on more and more responsibilty with our acquisition of Covalent, expaning our footprint with technologies such as Tomcat, Apache and ActiveMQ. So the SpringSource story has been gradually increasing the range of technologies that we contribute to or lead, and that we provide services on. And we see this as consistent with that.

But essentially what we're saying is that we think that Spring is the best component model out there for Enterprise Java, and we think there are different roads to Springness, if you like.
For example, with Microsoft you have the .NET platform that has the Common Language Runtime. It has a bunch of enterprise services and class libraries, and a component model. If you're a developer with a particular skillset you can choose VB.net language, the C# language or C++ language or a variety of other language – you're still using .NET but approaching it from a way that is interesting and appropriate to you.

Sugrue: With this acquisition, what are the effects on Grails? Is there anything Spring will be adding to Grails, or vice versa?

Johnson: Not in the short term – there are a number of things that we are looking at, for example integration between SpringSource DM Server and Grails to provide one integrated platform story. We are also looking at the possibility with our tooling group providing Groovy and Grails tooling. With SpringSource as a larger company, there's a range of areas we hopefully will provide benefits.

Sugrue: What do the guys from G2One think of this?
Rocher: We are all very excited about what the future holds for Groovy and Grails. We already have same philosophy as SpringSource in terms of our goals, to dramatically simplify the Java Enterprise space. The end goal is the same, we've just taken two different avenues. As Rod said, the existing integration between the technologies is strong, so we're excited about building onthat by integration with other key Spring portfolio products like Integration, Batch and so on.

Sugrue: Is it fair to say that G2One was in anyway inspired by Spring?

Rocher: Absolutely, I was an early adopter of the Spring Framework and programming model. Grails is very much based on that model. The fundamentals from Spring that it uses dynamic languages like Ruby to further simplify development to a point that it's comparable to things like Ruby on Rails and Django. 

Sugrue: What changes will this mean for either SpringSource or G2One?

There'll be pretty big changes in terms of go-to-market. The G2One customers will become SpringSource customers – SpringSource will be the brand. G2One Sales & Marketting will go purely through SpringSource.

Technically there will continue to be substantial autonomy. So if you look at our project leads like Juergen Holler, leader of the Spring Framework. Those kind of open source stars seem to have a good bit of autonomy in how they work and how they interact with the community. If you look at the quality technically of what is produced and the scale at which the community grows, Graeme and his team are doing a great things with Grails. The first thing as with the hypocrathic oath is “Do No Harm” so we certainly don't want to change that a great deal

One thing that you will see is both Spring and Grails benefit from a bit of cross-pollination. I'm really happy to have Graeme on board as one of the senior technologists in SpringSource. I wouldn't be surprised at all if that produces some beneficial suggestion to Spring projects as well as Grails. And similarly you may find some of the SpringSource contributing ideas or code to Grails.

Sugrue: That would be really good. Has this been in the pipeline for a long time?

Johnson: It was pretty obvious for some time that we needed to establish a commercial relationship between SpringSource and G2One. We had initially seen as a result of our vision that dynamic languages were something that people were getting interested in, noticed the rapid growth of the Grails community. Then the next interesting thing that happened was that customers started asking us what we thought of Grails and if we had any services for it. It was pretty clear that we needed to establish a relationship, exactly what happened with our acquisition of Covalent. A bit before this time last year, Mark Brewer, Covalent CEO and I, were having lunch and talking about the fact that we each had customers that wanted products and services from the other company and how we were going to deal with that.

In terms of exact conclusion of the deal, as soon as you get lawyers involved you're already looking at over a month. In terms of the closure of the deal from both sides, it was pretty quick. We went through a formal due diligence process - we needed to make sure everything was done in a very thorough manner. SpringSource has always tended to be scrupulous in those kind of things.

We believe on our revenue projections that it's feasable that we will be able to go public in 2 or 3 years time when the public market comes back, so we need to ensure we are squeaky clean. We can't afford to cut any corners. It probably took something like 30 or 40 days to close the deal.

Sugrue: What you say about going public is very interesting. A lot of people would be looking forward to seeing what would happen there.

Johnson: We think it would be great to have another independent public open source company. If you think of MySQL- they were a promising business, and it was disappointing that they didn't go public. Obviously they got an excellent offer from Sun, but now the fact is Sun has quite a few problems of it's own. It would have been good to see what would have happened to that business independently.
Right now the public market is a complete disaster, but the way our projections stack up, we believe we'll be in a position around 2010 to look towards filing – hopefully that will be a different economic story.

Sugrue: I just read in your blog recently that SpringSource were voted to be on the JCP committee for Java SE/ME. Congratulations. What are your aims for being part of the JCP?

Johnson: Thanks. We want to push for more openness. We want to try to emphasise the community part in the Java Community Process. We also want to ensure that we bring our experience, in terms of feeding good idea and weeding out some not-so-good ideas from the JCP. One thing that is always concerns people is the tendency to innovate by committee in the JCP – we don't think that's helpful.

That's probably the biggest thing that I intend to argue in the forum of the JCP – the starting point for any dicussion in the JCP, such as individual JSR expert groups, is that it should be in the open. It really does the technology and the process no good for the discussions to occur behind closed doors.

Sugrue: I agree - you asked that people could post comments at your blog and make their statements about what's wrong in the JCP. It feels to me that there's more chance of a developer voice getting heard with SpringSource involved.

Johnson: I would certainly hope so. How much we're able to influence it, time will tell. We're certainly going to do our best to be the voice of the developer.

Sugrue: The announcement puts SpringSource as being one of the most forward looking companies that exist at the moment in the Java development community.

Johnson: That's certainly what we're aiming at. In terms of what we did with Spring is transform Enterprise Java for the better. We're continuing to do that around areas like OSGi and POJO development. And one of the things that makes it feel natural to us was that G2One is doing the same thing. They build on what we've done with Spring, but Grails does a bunch a stuff that you couldn't do before Grails in Java. It's exactly the kind of thing that we've always attempted to do in open source. We've never been a company that thinks of open source like Hey, the price point of this product is 15,000 per CPU let's make an open source product that sucks value out of that market, maybe not quite as good but does most of the work. That's never really been what we're about as a company – what we have been about is providing a solution that hopefully will be cheaper, and more importantly will be better, and we'll do things that you could not previously do.
What Graeme's accomplished with Grails and Guillaume has done with Groovy at G2One fits perfectly.

The other thing interesting to us is the acquisition some pretty good talent. We're pleased that we have both Graeme and Guillaume, genuine leaders in the Enterprise Java community. That's a positive side of the deal for us.

Sugrue: Is G2One a big company?

Johnson: It's a small company – under 10 employees. However, despite being a small company it has real customers and real revenue. It's in a fairly healthy state. SpringSource is signifigantly larger, moving towards the 150 mark. We're a larger company, but G2One has some very good technologists and very good customers. Both of those things were very interesting to us.

Sugrue: For those not familiar, how can you get started with Grails?

Rocher: There's not much to do in terms of getting Grails, Spring and Hibernate to work together, because Grails is simply a web framework in a box, with everything pre-configured.

Johnson: One thing I wonder about, with Grails as one of the biggest communities in Enterprise Java, it doesn't have enough focus. It seems to be bigger than the amount of articles it gets.

Rocher: The first edition of GroovyMag was released this week, generated by fans and users of the technologies. There's a fortnightly Groovy & Grails podcast that goes out every fortnight that has about 1,000 subscribers. There's a lot of material being produced, it would be good to see more on the bigger sites.

The Java Zone is brought to you in partnership with ZeroTurnaround. Check out this 8-step guide to see how you can increase your productivity by skipping slow application redeploys and by implementing application profiling, as you code!


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