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Spring Creator Rod Johnson Leaves VMware

Rod Johnson, who wrote the first version of the open-source, Java-based Spring framework, and later co-founded SpringSource, has left his position as SVP and GM of VMware's SpringSource product division. Johnson joined the Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtualization company when it acquired SpringSource in 2009, where he then served as CEO.

In the blog post announcing his departure, Johnson gave no specific reasons for leaving the company, but described that past decade as "a wild and engrossing ride that I could never have imagined when I wrote the first lines of BeanFactory code in my study in London in 2001."

The Spring Framework is one of the most popular Java application frameworks on the market today. It's a layered Java/J2EE framework based on code published in Johnson's book Expert One-on-One Java EE Design and Development (Wrox Press, October 2002). He also wrote the first version of the framework. Although SpringSource has been a Java-focused operation, the company has ported its framework to .NET.

The open source Spring project was launched in 2003, and Johnson co-founded SpringSource in 2004. When the company was acquired by VMware in 2009, Johnson saw the merger as a joining of forces.

"Both of these companies grew up around great technology," he told ADTMag.com at the time. "We believe that the technology synergies are very, very strong, and that they will allow us to do incredibly exciting things with Platform as a Service and Java cloud technologies."

The VMware merger is responsible, at least in part, for the Spring Framework's expansion into management, runtimes, and non-Java development tools. In 2010 the company launched a lightweight version of its tc Server to provide a small footprint for running applications in virtualization and cloud-deployment architectures. The division also acquired data management vendor GemStone that year with plans to use that company's GemFire enterprise data fabric to give developers using the Spring Framework the infrastructure necessary for emerging cloud-centric applications.

Johnson served as member of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Java Community Process (JCP) and was an outspoken critic of the JCP's slow progress toward resolution of problems with J2EE. In 2009, during the latest dustup in an ongoing conflict between Sun Microsystems and the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) over Sun's refusal to provide the Foundation with a license for a Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK), Johnson expressed his disappointment with the process to @ADTmag: "This issue raises legitimate concerns about the credibility of the JCP as a whole," he said. "I mean, the JCP is either open or it's not. I have a lot of sympathy for the Foundation on this issue."

In 2011, Johnson told attendees at the annual JAX Conference in San Francisco that Java developer needed to "seize the lead in cloud computing." Developers would soon to need to be able to build applications that "leverage a dynamic and changing infrastructure, access data in non-traditional storage formats, perform complex computations against large data sets, support access from a plethora of client platforms and do so more quickly than ever before without sacrificing scalability, reliability and performance," he declared. What's called for now, is "an open, productive Java Platform-as-a-Service."

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, believes that, whatever Johnson does next, he'll be remembered for his work on the Spring Framework and his efforts to simplify Java development.

"I think Rod will be remembered as one of the pioneers of the open source and Java community," Milinkovich said. "He showed how open source can be used to create innovative technology that is widely used by the enterprise Java community. His lasting legacy will be forcing the simplification of the enterprise Java middleware stack. In doing so, he played a very large part in making Java a success."

IDC analyst Al Hilwa sees Johnson as a "role model in entrepreneurship" who has had a big impact on Java developers during his tenure at the head of SpringSource.

"Even though at heart he is a developer, very few have been able to roll obscure developer frameworks into an acquisition of the size that VMware paid for SpringSource," Hilwa said. "We may continue to evaluate whether VMware's ventures in application platform will make a lasting business model or generate sustainable revenue, but Rod's impact on the life of developers is undisputedly sizeable. The ideas pioneered by the Spring Framework have had long-lasting impact in the Java world as well as wide adoption. What's more, they affected the way Java EE has evolved, which has absorbed many of these innovations."

In his blog post, Johnson expressed his satisfaction with the success of Spring as a means of simplifying Java development. "Spring was created to simplify enterprise Java development, and has succeeded in that goal," he wrote, adding that Spring has become the dominant programming model for enterprise. Johnson also pointed to the framework's evolution as enterprise technology "well beyond the scope of the original Spring Framework." He cited a range of "Spring-created technology at the forefront of enterprise development," including Spring for Apache Hadoop (Big Data), Spring Data (NoSQL and distributed datastores), Spring Social (social networking), and Spring Mobile (mobile development).

Johnson also sought to reassure members of the open source Spring community in his blog post: "Spring will continue to be driven forward by the Spring project leads, whom you've all come to know and trust over the past several years. Their experience, deep technical knowledge and innovative thinking will continue to guide Spring's development. I look forward to seeing what they'll create for the next decade, in partnership with their communities."

Posted by John K. Waters on July 10, 2012