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SpikeSource, Open Source, and Bongo

Open Source: so I was just looking at OSCON 2005‘s website, and I noticed that it listed Kim Polese, of SpikeSource, as a presenter.

I don’t really pay any attention to what’s happening in Java these days, but it appears that SpikeSource launched last year to provide ‘enterprise support services for open-source software’ with a Java/enterprise slant.

Funnily enough, my last encounter with a Kim-Polese-headed company did indeed have a big effect on me, open-source-wise.

That company was Marimba, and they made an excellent Java GUI builder called Bongo. In those days (nearly ten years ago!), I was working on a product for Iona as a developer, in Java and C++, and we needed to provide a GUI on a number of Java tools. I chose to use Bongo, as it had a great feature set and looked reliable.

Wow, was I wrong! The software was reliable — sadly, the same couldn’t be said about the vendor. What I hadn’t considered was the possibility that the company might decide to discontinue the product, and not offer any migration help to its customers — and that’s exactly what happened, Sometime around 1998, Marimba decided that Bongo wasn’t quite as important as their Castanet ‘push’ product, and dropped it. Despite calls from the Bongo-using community to release the code so that the community could maintain it and avoid code-rot, they never did, and as a result apps using Bongo had to be laboriously rewritten to remove the Bongo dependencies.

I learned an important lesson about writing software — if at all possible, build your products on open source, instead of relying on a fickle commercial software vendor. It’s a lot harder to have the rug pulled out from under you, that way.

Update: Well, it seems it was quite far off the mark about Marimba. Someone who worked at Marimba at the time read the blog entry, and got in touch via email:

I was an employee of Marimba in the early days, and was around when we developed Bongo, and still later, when we discontinued it, and still later, when Bongo *was* released to the open-source community (jm: appears to be around the start of 1999 I think). It was hosted on a site called and continued to be enhanced with new features and a lot of new and cool widgets. It was ultimately discontinued a few years later due to lack of interest.

It was hosted and primarily maintained in the open-source community by one of the original Bongo engineers. Here’s a link from the Java Gazette from the days when it was called Free Bongo.

So don’t go blaming Marimba. We did listen to our users and release the code!

Fair enough — and they deserve a lot more credit than I’d initially assumed. I guess I must have missed this later development after leaving Iona. Apologies, ex-Marimbans!

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