by Bernard Golden

If You Can’t Argue the Facts, Try Incoherence

May 02, 20063 mins

I found a recent interview with Alfred Chuang, CEO of BEA, both amusing and bewildering — to the point where I wondered if the writer was being deliberately cruel by printing direct quotations instead of following the usual practice of smoothing out interview responses.

In the interview Chuang is asked about competition from JBoss. Instead of attempting to answer the question with boring facts or even rational assertions, he pursues a different tack: incomprehensibility — worthy of Norm Crosby.

He dismisses JBoss because their yearly revenue (according to his estimate) is minuscule and then observes that JBoss must not have much of a presence, since it doesn’t “sell itself”; if BEA sales reps aren’t competing with JBoss, no customer is actively using it. 

One representative quote:

I think the marketplace so wants to believe there’s a transition that everything is going to become open source. They are believing in something that really doesn’t exist. Will JBoss work? I think yes. Only if the J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] APIs become obsolete. If they become a commodity and nobody programs to J2EE anymore, then people will use JBoss. Because then you can pop JBoss and put it on WebLogic on the fly. We’re not there yet. JBoss is not Linux, and Linux is not free.

I must admit, this quote put me in mind of Norm Crosby. It’s certainly baffling and impenetrable.

His responses are reminiscent of the time I saw a senior Oracle executive maintain that MySQL didn’t represent much of a threat, because “we don’t see them much” in competitive deals.

Of course you don’t see them much in deals. The only time you speak to a customer is when they have not looked at an open source option or have looked at it and decided it isn’t appropriate. You only get called in as a last choice.

In other words, the software selection beauty contests of the past aren’t necessary in an open source world — the customer just downloads the software and tries it out. They never have to talk to a sales rep. You only get calls after they have rejected open source. Don’t kid yourselves that real customers aren’t downloading and using open source in real production systems. It’s happening plenty.

To offer a real-world example: I worked with a company that had a system using an old version of WebLogic. They wanted to upgrade to a current J2EE implementation. The BEA rep quoted them $500K– quite a mouthful for a company doing about $30 million in revenues. So they decided to take a look at JBoss and found it functionally equivalent, with superior technical support. The JBoss price? Only $50K. What do you think their decision was?

Chuang then goes on and makes an ad hominem attack on Mark Fleury, CEO of JBoss, stating that Fleury makes unsubstantiated claims. Chuang goes on to say “That really bothers me. Integrity is everything in the enterprise software business.”

I know integrity is the first word that springs to my mind when I think of enterprise software. Of course, maybe I’m just cynical because the CEO of an enterprise software company I worked for went to prison for cooking the books.

Through all the smoke and fog and FUD of the interview, Chuang actually limns his biggest problem: JBoss distributes a product functionally equivalent to WebLogic and charges at least 90% less than BEA. No amount of obfuscation can disguise that problem.