by Charlie Griefer, Staff Writer
BlueDragon's J2EE edition will soon be available as an open source product, its maker, New Atlanta Communications LLC, announced yesterday. Other versions of BlueDragon, a family of runtime server-side products for the deployment of CFML pages, would still be sold as commercial products. The announcement has people talking.
BlueDragon has been a prominent alternative to Adobe's ColdFusion product for quite some time. In order to remain competitive, New Atlanta often included
"enhancements" to BlueDragon. Either by adding new CFML elements, or extending existing elements by adding attributes or arguments, BlueDragon tried to set itself apart form Adobe's ColdFusion. However, the announcement that the Java version of BlueDragon would be made available as a free, open source product makes the most significant tag/function enhancement seem trivial by comparison.
There is definitely a lot of excitement surrounding the announcement. But the big question is what it will mean for the community.
Very few people who are familiar with ColdFusion would not attest to arguably its biggest strength – rapid application development. Yet although ColdFusion allows almost anybody with basic programming experience to develop and deploy feature-rich web applications, ColdFusion constantly finds itself relegated to a niche market. Rumors of its demise surface regularly, and it fails to be seen as a serious mainstream solution. One theory is that the cost of the ColdFusion application server has been a barrier to entry. Whereas PHP is free and .NET is pervasive because of its coupling with Windows, companies wanting to use ColdFusion need a license or even multiple licenses, based on their server configuration. The argument that this investment will pay dividends by providing a shorter development timeline doesn't always win over managers and decision-makers, who aren't able to understand – and thus justify – the up-front cost.
Will an open source BlueDragon offer a resolution to this issue? It could. A free CFML engine could mean more hosting companies offering competitively-priced CFML plans. Those who have been curious about ColdFusion, and even those who haven't, would be more inclined to take a look at it. The RAD nature of CFML could potentially get exposure to a large user base that had been previously unable to even consider it due to that initial investment.
The prospect of giving CFML that level of exposure, the likes of which it?s really never before seen, is certainly exciting. Are there any potential pitfalls or problems? Could be.
Will the open source route be viable for New Atlanta? That remains to be seen. Sure, they're going to continue to develop and sell commercial versions of BlueDragon. BlueDragon .NET and BlueDragon JX are not being open-sourced, for example. But will that be enough to justify ongoing development of BlueDragon J2EE? If not, the repercussions could be far-reaching. Is it worse to have a platform that isn't getting the exposure it deserves, or to put it out there for free, only to take it away after people have gotten a taste? If the latter occurs, there could be some residual resentment in the developer community.
What will it take for the open-source BlueDragon to be considered successful? That's largely up to New Atlanta. The increased exposure for CFML alone could be enough to cause sales of their other server products to increase. Will developers contribute to the project? A lot of people see open source as just meaning
"free." However, the true strength of an open source project is that anybody can submit enhancements or fix bugs. The product is made better by the collaborative efforts of the community. Without that community input, it's not uncommon for an open source project to stagnate, wither, and die.
If this foray into open source proves to be even moderately successful, there's always the chance that Adobe could open source ColdFusion Standard and continue to sell ColdFusion Enterprise as a commercial product. Adobe is no stranger to open source, having open-sourced Flex last year, and such a move would help to knock down that all-too-prominent barrier to entry, up-front cost. I have very little doubt that Adobe is watching this move closely, and possibly planning their own response, depending on how the scenario plays out.
So... what does it mean? Unfortunately, it's too early to tell. Short term, it means additional exposure for CFML, which has to be a good thing. Long term... time will tell.
Charlie Griefer is a Senior Software Engineer at Amcom Computer Services in San Ramon, California. He has been working with ColdFusion for 10+ years, and figures one day he may actually be good at it.
When he's not covering the ColdFusion world for Fusion Authority, he can be found blogging at http://charlie.griefer.com/blog.