Will Sun's Open Source Software Survive Oracle?

Lora Bentley

The tech press is buzzing with the news that database giant Oracle is "taking IBM's leavings," in a sense, and buying Sun Micrososystems for $7.4 billion.


The details that have been made public so far have been bandied about so much already I'm not going to repeat them again. The more interesting question is what the deal will mean -- particularly for Sun's open source software. Historically, Larry Ellison and Oracle haven't been the open source evangelists that Jonathan Schwartz and Sun have worked to be.


As always with things like this, reaction has been mixed. At ComputerworldUK, Glynn Moody writes:

I suspect that one of the things that made Sun so attractive was that buying it Oracle could attempt to deal with two open source threats at once-one direct, the other more indirect. Its aim will be to throttle the upstart pretender to the throne in order to protect the reigning monarch. That's going to be bad for both GNU/Linux and MySQL.

ZDNet's Dana Gardner says the acquisition "makes perfect sense" and will be great for Java. He says:

Winners on the deal include Java itself in the fullest and broadest sense. Oracle and IBM are the premier Java vendors, and the might of IBM (and its customers and developers) in the market will force Oracle to keep Java open and vibrant, while Oracle's penchant for control and commercial success will keep Java safe and singular.

According to CNET News blogger Matt Asay, it's all about integrated hardware and software. He says Oracle is taking the industry back to a "systems" approach. Though the MySQL technology doesn't play a big part yet, it may. He writes:

MySQL's market share in the enterprise database market is negligible, but its share of the exploding Web database market is dominant and exploding.... [T]his acquisition makes Oracle the clear behemoth in databases, past (enterprise) and future (Web).

Interestingly, though, Jaspersoft CEO Brian Gentile has a different take altogether. He says Oracle will be spinning out Sun's hardware and systems business. What the company really wants, according to Gentile, is "the hearts and minds of the software development community."


The move positions Oracle to compete more effectively with IBM, Oracle and SAP, and to do so, he says Oracle will need to be a lot more "transparent and collaborative" than it has been in the past. Like Asay, Gentile says speculation on MySQL's future is premature. He writes:

Oracle execs will surely understand the most successful use-cases for MySQL and allow it to continue flourishing in those arenas. Where MySQL encroaches on the functionality of Oracle's main database products, the outlook is murkier.

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Apr 22, 2009 7:33 PM Doug Harr Doug Harr  says:

One of my concerns on this acquisition is the centralization of an entire set of technology alternatives into a stack that now includes everything from hardware up through the business applications.  This reduction of alternatives strains innovation and fair pricing.  More on my blog here: blogs.ingres.com/dougharr/

Apr 29, 2009 6:28 PM Scott Rutledge Scott Rutledge  says:

Well, the article really doesn't delve into much in the way of details, does it? Just a few opinions by other writers (not users, developers, tech managers or executives...). Where are the possible strategies, tactics, and options??? For either Oracle, Sun, or the user/customer base of both product sets?Why not try to provide a bit more focus on this?There's certainly plenty to talk about! As the '80's-esque Wendy's commercial would say, "Where's the beef???"

There's plenty of concern about this merger, from every corner of the aforementioned audience base, for a plethora of reasons. The current installed base of open source, PHP/MySQL-based websites and eCommerce sites alone (and the supporting and enabling products that they are built upon/around, like all of the CMS, forum, blog and social networking app providers) and even the commercially-viable/-based app market that has developed around all of the open-source Web 2.0 enabling technologies is directly and indirectly threatened by this move. 

And especially given Oracle's historical strategies and tactics surrounding proprietary and commercial exploitation of its own software, let along that which it has acquired and folded into its catalog.

One thing that Oracle and Mr.Ellison can be trusted to do: look after themselves, and finding ways to capitalize and profit on every single transaction. Mind you, that's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you are a shareholder...But no one has ever mistaken them for being either benevolent or benign. Nothing is given away. Ever.

In fact, the concept of "open source" is so foreign and repugnant to Oracle (like Microsoft) that, in many ways, I'm surprised they'd even be interested in acquiring Sun, in the first place - if it weren't for the singular fact/reason that Sun's open source offerings demonstrated such a significant "challenge" to their marketspace.

Having considered this m&a from a number of different perspectives, I believe, on the balance, that the move could be good for Java. There is a very large, thriving and well-entrenched base of both users/customers and commercially-viable Java technologies, software, applications and supporting services (as mentioned in the above article) and the on-going maintenance and support requirements of the core base of Java is just not that intensive or extensive at this point. So, at least for this part of the product set, it seems the Oracle acquisition is more of a CA-style move (i.e., "buy 'em when they're mature, have a large installed base, and the bugs/kinks are long since worked out, put minimal effort/investment into it, and ride that pony..."). This could have a minimal immediate and/or near-term impact on the existing user/customer Java base. But then, long-term might be a different story:e.g., what's happened to every one of CA's acquired products in their quiver?

For MySQL, it's an entirely different ball game. MySQL - like Linux before it - represents a very real and proven challenge to the status quo commercial model for system software. Oracle has really only 2 response options to this threat: 1), Crush it (which comes with a "poo poo it" on the front end), or 2), embrace and adopt it.

Both Microsoft (remember Gates poo-pooing the Internet/World Wide Web back in the early '90s as a "fad" and "flash in the pan"? Reply

Apr 29, 2009 6:28 PM Scott Rutledge Scott Rutledge  says:
same attitude in many other/different situations has revealed a pervasive mindset there;I know, not a huge revelation, more of a "duh") and Sun itself (with Solaris vs.Linux) have tried the "crush it" strategy, all failing to discredit, quell and crush the challenger. So each - in their own way - chose the latter "embrace and adopt" strategy. Microsoft with Internet Explorer (and many other developed and/or acquired examples) and Sun with Java and MySQL and "OpenSolaris".

Of course, the difference between Linux (and Java really) on the one hand, and MySQL on the other hand, is huge for Oracle. Oracle's continued to profit handsomely by the onset and surge of installed commercial production instances of Linux, as it's provided just another platform upon which they can sell, upgrade, modify, transition to, provide installation/implementation/consulting services for, etc.on top of their existing product/service and user/customer base.

This speaks well for Java, as again, it provides simply another development and installed production platform for the already-existing Oracle product and service solution set. These aren't challengers or threats to Oracle, they are enablers.

However, MySQL is a direct challenge and threat to the Oracle base. And as a product, it is still relatively less mature in its product life cycle, continuing to develop, grow, evolve and mature, which requires a much higher level of effort, time and investment to maintain viability and meet market expectations.

While providing scant little revenue.

Oh yeah, and also while eroding (or at least competing directly for new market in) the current database system and application software market.

One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to see how this could well play out. We might expect to see some justification and juicy rationalization for the move to discontinue MySQL and shut it down (or perhaps more cleverly, to just put continuing, on-going support on "super slo mo", fating it to a slow, quiet death) by rationalizing that, with a few api call changes in the various PHP et al apps (and for which Oracle will be only too-eager to accomodate by providing interfaces/bridges, which would thus require no or far fewer app code changes) and because MySQL supports standard SQL language support, that everyone and every THING (apps) can "just seamlessly switch over to Oracle" database products and services. We might even expect to see Oracle trumpet and herald this move as a 'very positive benefit' for existing MySQL users/customers, as it will now be "supported by the full weight and focus of the Oracle organization" (or something like that...). And of course, you'd have to start paying for it. Somehow. Expect that, more than all of the other.

But leave MySQL alone, as it is?  No way. not for $7.4 BILLION.

Just my 2 cents worth (actually, not even that much!).

-Scott Rutledge

May 1, 2009 9:49 AM Rob Jones Rob Jones  says:

What is more interesting is opensource,opensolaris and the leverage of the community around this. Sure the focus will change but to what? Opensource is not a asset to be owned but it could be shaped.Does Oracle really get it as its brandnew to this management.Oracle will need different management skills to move forward with opensource and be warely it may no longer be a monster to be put back in a box.


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