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JBoss: The JavaServer Faces Powerhouse?
by Kito D. Mann
06 May 2007 01:30 EDT

JSFCentral editor-in-chief Kito D. Mann discusses JBoss and their involvement in the JavaServer Faces community.


JBoss has proven itself a force in the J2EE application server market. Now, with Seam and the acquisition of some exciting new products, JBoss is jockeying for control of the JavaServer Faces market.

JBoss on the Rise

If you have followed JBoss over the past few years, you can't deny that they've made a lot of good moves. First there's the catchy marketing phrase "Professional Open Source." Then, there's the ability to tap open source products and talent, such as Hibernate and its creator Gavin King. And, to be sure, gobbling up J2EE server market share and getting acquired by Red Hat aren't too shabby either. Even with the departure of founder Marc Fleury, the company is not resting on its laurels.

Enter Seam

JBoss, like other J2EE vendors, pledged full support for Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 5.0, and just like everybody else (except Sun Microsystems) they took their sweet time releasing a compliant server. However, they noticed something that other Java EE vendors didn't: there was a piece missing. While EJB 3.0 has gone to great lengths to simplify development of Enterprise JavaBeans, the JavaServer Faces (JSF) specification missed the boat. The focus of JSF 1.2 (the first release included with Java EE 5) was better integration with JavaServer Pages, or as we in the expert group called it, "web-tier alignment." Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to properly include full-fledged support for ease-of-use features such as annotations. Moreover, JSF 1.2 doesn't provide any special integration with EJB.

JBoss Seam, a brainchild of Gavin King, is a framework that integrates JSF with EJB 3, bringing to JSF many of the features that make the rest of Java EE 5 easier to use, such as annotations. Seam allows you to use EJBs directly within your JSF application, eliminating the "glue code" previously necessary for communicating between the two layers. In addition, Seam, like Apache Shale, provides many features that fill in the gaps in the JSF specification and make developing JSF applications easier.

So far, Seam has been a runaway success. It's one of those products that attracts far more champions than detractors, and developers are generally happy with it. Seam's concepts will eventually become standardized as part of the WebBeans JSR as well as related specifications such as JSF 2.0.

With all of its promise, it's not surprising to see JBoss pushing Seam. After all, it fits in very well with their Java Enterprise Middleware Suite, which consists of Hibernate and JBoss Application Server, Portal, jBPM, Rules, Messaging, and so on. Seam is a no-brainer for a JBoss shop. However, recently the product has expanded its reach towards other application servers—it can now integrate with Spring, and it runs on Tomcat. There may be more at play here than simply adding value to the existing product line. Not only is JBoss embracing outside technologies, it's acquiring them as well.

Enter Exadel

Exadel has long been known as a strong open source player, gaining praise initially for their Struts Eclipse plug-ins as well as their consulting and training services. When JSF was released back in 2004, Exadel clearly understood its potential and immediately began providing JSF services as well as support in their Struts Eclipse plug-ins, currently named Exadel Studio and Exadel Studio Pro. Last year saw the release of two more JSF-based products: their component suite, the Exadel Rich Client Platform, and their most significant contribution so far, Ajax4Jsf, which provides transparent support for Ajax in JSF applications. Exadel has clearly established itself as a dominant player in the JSF market.

While consulting companies who also sell products often have tension between their two business models, I was still surprised to hear that all three JSF products were essentially being sold to JBoss through a "strategic partnership." While Exadel will still be involved with development, these products will be hosted at jboss.org, released as 100% open source, and JBoss will own the IP. Exadel will continue to provide consulting services.

The Bottom Line

So, what does this mean for JBoss? Suddenly, it has four key products in the JSF market: a powerful JSF-based framework, an IDE, a component suite, and an Ajax integration toolkit. And they're all free and open source. While Sun and Oracle both have significant contributions in these areas, JBoss has the spotlight right now. From where I sit, it looks as if they're the open source JSF powerhouse. It'll be interesting to see where things go from here.



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