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Freeing the Dragon an Interview with Vince Bonfanti

[img_assist|nid=1978|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=80|height=108]DZone sits down with Vince Bonfanti, President and co-founder of New Atlanta Communications, LLC. New Atlanta creates server-based software products built using Java/J2EE and Microsoft .NET Framework technologies. New Atlanta recently announced a version of their BlueDragon product, a ColdFusion-compatible web application server that allows native deployment and integration of CFML applications onto J2EE servers, will be open sourced by mid 2008. This is the first open source commercial grade CFML engine to date.

Dan Wilson: BlueDragon, the Java Product, is a J2EE Engine compatible with ColdFusion Markup Language. The product has been available since 2001, why have New Atlanta chosen now to Open Source BlueDragon? Clearly such a dramatic move must have taken lots of time and planning. Can you talk us through when the discussions began to Open Source BlueDragon?

Vince Bonfanti: One of our major priorities for BlueDragon has always been to make sure that it isn’t simply a clone of ColdFusion. We’re constantly looking for ways to innovate and add value, which is reflected in features such as image processing via CFIMAGE, query caching with CFQUERYPARAM, CFC serialization, CFC interfaces, multi-threaded programming via CFTHREAD, and many, many more tags and functions that were first introduced in BlueDragon and were later incorporated by Macromedia or Adobe in subsequent ColdFusion releases. Perhaps more important than these ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML) features has been the platform innovation for which BlueDragon is most well-known. BlueDragon was the first ColdFusion-compatible server to support standard J2EE WAR/EAR deployment, the first to support WebLogic and JBoss, the first to support Mac OS X, the first to support native deployment on 64-bit Windows and Linux, and remains the only to offer a native .NET implementation in addition to Java-based implementations.

All of the language and platform innovation we’ve done with BlueDragon has been in direct response to feedback we’ve received from our prospects, customers, and others within the CFML community. However, one consistent theme we’ve heard over the years that no CFML-server vendor has acted upon is the nagging frustration caused by the fact that CFML market share and mind share has been surpassed by the “free” web scripting languages, primarily PHP, ASP, JSP, and Rails. ColdFusion was once among the web application market leaders, and the CFML programming is still superior to its competitors for of ease-of-use and productivity; however, many feel that CFML has been marginalized over the years and continues to lose ground to the free alternatives.

Releasing a free open source edition is a direct continuation of the platform innovation, and responsiveness to our customers and the community that have been hallmarks of New Atlanta and the BlueDragon product line. Releasing a free open source BlueDragon edition will put the CFML scripting language on equal footing with existing free alternatives, and give CFML a new avenue to grow and prosper relative to those languages. We also believe that the free open source BlueDragon edition will provide a vehicle for the community to have more direct input into the future evolution of the CFML scripting language than has been provided by commercial vendors in the past.

DW: It certainly is a bold move, and a departure from historical business strategy. Was there internal resistance?

VB: At first I was very strongly opposed to an open source strategy. I didn’t understand the business model, and in fact there were several different business models to choose from. The major open source vendors—such as RedHat, JBoss, MySQL, and Zend (PHP)—all use somewhat different licensing and business models, and it wasn’t clear to me which was going to prove to be the most successful, or which—if any—was most appropriate for us to adopt for BlueDragon.

We began to again reconsider the open source question about a year ago, in the summer of 2007 soon after the release of BlueDragon 7.0. We even discussed the idea with key CFML community members who are not directly associated with New Atlanta. This time, for the first time, I became a proponent of an open source strategy for several reasons:

  1. BlueDragon has been in the market long enough and we’ve grown a large enough base of customers to give us a very solid understanding of why people buy BlueDragon. With this knowledge, we believe we’ve been able to devise an open source strategy that will contribute to an increase in BlueDragon sales.
  2. The MySQL dual-licensing business model, where the same product is offered under both open source and commercial licenses, appears to be very successful and one we can emulate with BlueDragon.
  3. With the release of BlueDragon 7.0, our code base has reached a level of maturity and stability that will allow us to successfully release it as an open source project.

Ironically, while I did a complete turnaround from being strongly against open source to being a proponent, some people who were previously in favor of BlueDragon open source had turned against it. The result was a lively internal discussion that took more than six months to resolve in favor of open source. In the end we reached a strong consensus that the open source strategy we’ve settled upon will be a successful complement to our commercial business. The overwhelmingly positive feedback we’re received since our announcement has confirmed this for us and given us confidence that we made the right decisions.

DW: Some consider this bold step as a sign that the Java based BlueDragon CFML engine is going End-Of-Life?

VB: No, not at all. Much as the Fedora project is for RedHat Linux, the Java-based open source BlueDragon edition will be our primary vehicle for new feature development, experimentation, and for receiving community feedback. When new features reach a sufficient level of maturity they'll be merged into new releases of the commercial editions. It this way the open source edition will lead, not lag, the commercial editions and the open source community will always be at the cutting edge of new feature development. Customers of the commercial BlueDragon editions will be assured that only mature, production-ready software of the highest quality is incorporated into commercial releases.

DW: That is also similar to the Open Solaris model as well. That makes sense from an R&D perspective, how else does creating an Open Source version of the BlueDragon product benefit New Atlanta?

VB: Our goal is to build a user community around the free open source edition of BlueDragon to complement the strong commercial customer base we've built over the past six years. As our commercial customers already do, we'll look to the open source community to provide feedback to help us make BlueDragon a better product; and, for them to help spread the word both within and outside of the existing CFML community about the benefits of BlueDragon as a web application platform. We also hope, of course, that some members of the BlueDragon open source community—and some of the people they attract to the BlueDragon open source community—will become paying customers for the commercial editions.

DW: Certainly ease of installation and use will be factors in adoption and use by newcomers to the platform, can you describe how the Open Source BlueDragon product will be packaged? Will the end user have to procure and install a J2EE server?

VB: There will be a binary package that includes all necessary JARs, configuration files, and other resources bundled as a standard J2EE WAR file (.war) and also as a standard J2EE webapp in an “exploded” directory, either of which can be deployed directly to any compliant J2EE server. Initially, it will be necessary for end users to procure and install a J2EE server (or servlet container), but we plan to create bundled distributions with JBoss and Tomcat to make this easier. We’re also investigating the possibility of creating a free VMWare appliance containing the full software stack including the Linux operating system, MySQL, JBoss or Tomcat, and BlueDragon.

The source code will be available as an Eclipse project; it’ll be as simple as unpacking the BlueDragon directory and adding the project to Eclipse. There will also be an Ant script available for building the JAR files.

DW: Can you describe how the future direction of the Open Source BlueDragon product will be set?

VB: We’re in the process of forming a steering—or advisory—committee to guide the open source BlueDragon project. This committee is being led by Alan Williamson, the original creator of the tagServlet engine that is the heart of BlueDragon. Alan has recruited a number of prominent members of the CFML community to serve with him on the committee, and I expect an announcement from him soon. I will be an interested observer, but not a member of the steering committee; I’ll focus my efforts on the commercial BlueDragon editions while Alan leads the open source project.

DW: An Open Source CFML engine fits some previously unmet needs of the marketplace. Some organizations need or require commercial support for implemented products. Can you touch on the available support options for organizations utilizing the Open Source BlueDragon product?

VB: Following the precedents set by MySQL, and by RedHat with the Fedora project, we do not plan to offer support for the open source edition of BlueDragon. Customers who wish to buy support contracts will need to buy licenses for the commercial editions of BlueDragon.

DW: That makes sense. Now about licensing, from the material available, we see the GPL license was chosen for the Open Source version of BlueDragon. This license requires any software bundles with BlueDragon to also be open sourced under the GPL. Why did New Atlanta settle on that software license?

VB: The GPL is the only open source license that guarantees that BlueDragon and all future changes and enhancements will always be available both free and open source. This is the main reason for selecting the GPL. A secondary reason is that any software—including CFML applications—bundled for redistribution with open source BlueDragon (thus creating a derivative work) must also be released under the GPL. This will hopefully encourage the development of open source CFML applications for redistribution with open source BlueDragon. Commercial software vendors who wish to bundle their CFML applications with BlueDragon but do not want to release their source code under the GPL may purchase a commercial VAR/OEM license for BlueDragon.

DW: It has been said that the Open Source BlueDragon product can actually be licensed in two ways. Can you touch on both and the reasoning behind dual-license?

VB: Again, we chose the GPL because it’s the strongest open source license and the only one that guarantees that BlueDragon and all future enhancements will always be free and open source. We will continue to offer commercial BlueDragon licenses for companies and organizations for which the GPL is not appropriate; for example, enterprises that require support contracts or commercial software vendors who want to redistribute BlueDragon with their CFML applications and need a commercial VAR/OEM license. This is exactly the same licensing and business model pioneered by MySQL.

Finally, there are editions of BlueDragon that will only be available as commercial products. While these editions share a significant amount of source code with the open source edition, the complete code bases for BlueDragon.NET and BlueDragon Server JX are not being released as open source.

DW: This clearly opens a lot of doors for CFML that were previously closed. How do you see the CFML landscape changing as a result of this generous move by New Atlanta?

VB: From a CFML community standpoint, we think the release of proven, mature, free open source CFML server implementation could potentially be the single most important event to increase the popularity, strength and longevity of the language since the invention of the language itself in the mid-1990s. The community feedback to our announcement has been extremely positive, and many have expressed the hope that release of the free open source BlueDragon edition will increase the adoption and use of the CFML scripting language.

From a private company standpoint, while we certainly have specific goals in mind, it’s going to be fun to watch the unexpected and unpredictable results. We had no idea when we created the original BlueDragon J2EE edition that it would be licensed by BEA—one of the leading enterprise Java companies—for resale to their customers. We had no idea when we created BlueDragon.NET that our first customer would be, now one of the most popular web sites in the world. Who knows where open source BlueDragon will take us?

Thanks to Vince and New Atlanta for taking time to talk with DZone on the move to Open Source the BlueDragon J2EE CFML engine. Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 pm, Vince will release the open source BlueDragon project for the first time at the CF.Objective() conference. Attendees will see a demonstration consisting of installation and configuration of the product and then participate in a question and answer session.


Exciting times for the CFML universe indeed!

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