Getting Ready for the End of Open Source

Wayne Rash

Oracle's lawsuit against Google, filed on August 12, is important for more than just its effect on Android-based phones. In reality, it's an attack on all of the open source projects originally started by Sun Microsystems before it was purchased by Oracle. In fact, Oracle has already started rolling up the open source legacy of Sun, and it's closing down as much as it can, as fast as it can.

The lawsuit against Google revolves around the fact that Google compiled the open source version of the Java virtual machine for use in the Android environment. Oracle is suing because it claims that Google is infringing on its patents by doing so. Google, of course, is saying that Oracle's action is 'baseless.'

Regardless of how this finally ends up, Java developers have a real concern on their hands. Oracle has already made moves to end open source in other areas. Developers using Open Solaris, for example, have already been notified that there will be no further updates to this open source operating system from Oracle. Oracle has closed the future development of Solaris to only the paid version of the software. MySQL, which Sun acquired, is also in Oracle's crosshairs. After all, it competes directly with Oracle's flagship database products.

Java's future is less clear, but many observers think that Oracle will stop open source development of it as well as its case against Google continues, make Java into a proprietary environment, and charge for its use on all platforms.

None of this is new to Oracle, which has a long history of aggressive behavior. Some suggest that the next target is Linux, through its relationship with Red Hat, and others suggest that OpenOffice is on its way to becoming OracleOffice.

The real question, of course, is how this affects you. The answer is that it matters if you depend on open source software for some aspect of your business. For example, if you depend on Java as a development environment, then you probably should plan on paying for a commercial version, or finding another environment. If you're developing for Android mobile platforms, then be careful, and make absolutely certain that you adhere to the GPL so that Oracle can't come after you.

Meanwhile, you should also examine your application environment and decide what the risk is to your company if you're depending on software such as MySQL for business-critical functions. If you are, it would probably be a good idea to at least test your applications for proper functioning on another database environment just to be sure in case Oracle pulls the plug on this open source favorite.

While there's little chance that Oracle, despite its Genghis Khan-based business strategy (the CEO's motto is that it's not enough to win, but all others must lose), the more important issue is that Oracle's actions bring uncertainty into a world where most businesses don't want uncertainty. While I'm not recommending you abandon open source, I do think you need to know what your options are.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 17, 2010 9:08 PM Chris Chris  says:
The very notion that somehow "open source" is going to die over Oracle and Java, is silly. Much like the many notions of its demise over a similar company's attempt to kill open source. The constant attacks on open source are, as always baseless, and nothing more than an attempt by those who profit to stop people's interest in open source. How dare you not pay me for something you can get an equivalent for free? And most open source minded programmers can tell you - it isn't about the money, its about concern over those who want you to pay, controlling too much, and thus controlling YOU. Reply
Aug 18, 2010 7:08 AM Maxx Maxx  says:
Not all the world is stuck with software patents like the U.S. and there is the rest of the world of developing countries (India, China ...) that is saving a lot of money with open source. Reply
Aug 19, 2010 5:08 AM Dave Dave  says:
I suspect that that Oracle's move will simply move people away from MySQL to Postgresql, MariaDB or some other open-source DB. We moved to Postgresql long before Oracle had Sun in its cross-hairs. It is definitely faster than InnoDB for our application and more compliant from what I hear. IMO MySQL is pretty much dead -- there's no activity or significant new functionality planned. Not sure about Open Office. If Oracle wants to kill that, IBM Symphony may just take it's place. Reply
Sep 9, 2010 5:09 PM Scotty Scotty  says:
I'll turn your arguments against you. You say "How dare you not pay me for something you can get an equivalent for free?" in one breath and then in the other you abandon the FSF motto of contribute back. Nothing in this life is free but apparently millions of open source lemmings don't understand this. There is a cost, you just can't see it. Funny how large corporations and even startups will tout opensource and neglect to contribute to it because they will lose their "competitive advantage". Well if you can't adhere to the FSF then you lemmings should loose elsewhere for a freebee. Reply
Sep 29, 2010 10:09 AM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
If open source is dying, it's not because of the Oracle/Sun or even Oracle/Google events. Free (as in beer) in inherently unsustainable. People gotta eat and pay mortgages and get their kids braces. This limits the amount of pro bono work they can do. Solving this by having a benevolent patent owner only works as long as the patent owner continues to be benevolent (and isn't purchased by someone who isn't). Solving this by sponsorships amounts to little more than the kind of patronage pioneered in medieval Italy: you're at the whim of the patron. Yes, people will continue to contribute, but following the 90/10 rule of social networks, most will simply consume. Somebody has to pay for all this, one way or another. Reply

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