The big news to kick off this week was Oracle’s announced acquisition of Sun Microsystems. There is already a lot of discussion of the integration challenges, how Oracle is getting into hardware (or as Matt Asay describes it, having an ‘iPod moment’) and of course, the implications for open source software. What stands out to me is the fact that the world’s biggest proprietary database player — one of few software giants that still sells and supports primarily proprietary software — will own the world’s most popular open source database, MySQL. It is unclear how significantly MySQL figures into the deal, but given Sun spent $1b acquiring it and further invested in its enterprise readiness and use, it must mean something. What is perhaps even more unclear is what will happen going forward to MySQL and the many other open source software technologies — Java, GlassFish application server, OpenOffice.org to name a few — that are under Sun’s moniker?
These questions bring Oracle’s open source citizenship, covered previously on the CAOS blog and in a 451 Group report, into the spotlight. Oracle rightfully deserves credit for its positive participation in the development of the Linux OS and many other open source projects, including Apache, Berkeley DB, Eclipse, InnoDB, PHP, SASH, Spring and Xen.
We’ve certainly emphasized Sun’s open source projects, products and strategy in assessing its value, position and opportunities. Looking across Sun’s assets, the open source holdings have been among the shiniest.
However, this doesn’t really jibe with the view of open source presented by Oracle and its CEO Larry Ellison, a view that I think somewhat misses the point of open source software. Mr. Ellison and his company have showed they value the advantages of open source software development and innovation based on Oracle’s contributions and investments in open source. Still, when asked about having top Linux vendor Red Hat or a similar open source company on his shopping list, Ellison indicated there would be no need to buy an open source company when he could simply take and use their code. In fact, that’s exactly what Ellison and Oracle did with Unbreakable Linux. While it has been taken up by a number of Oracle shops and even some additional customers that see greater value and time-savings in getting their Linux from Oracle, Unbreakable Linux has not exactly broken out. Furthermore, Oracle has always downplayed the commercial and revenue potential for Unbreakable Linux, which has had minimal impact on Red Hat.
So while Oracle has displayed an ability to participate in and benefit from open source software, I think its expectations and aspirations for open source software are limited. You can’t blame a company making billions for not getting too excited about millions, especially when sometimes the millions are simply numbers of users. Nevertheless, Sun is sitting on top of some of the most pervasive, disruptive and popular open source software used in the enterprise today.
With Oracle’s purchase of Sun, we may go from overly high expectations for Sun’s open source software — driven in large part by pressure to right the ship and reward investors — to drastically lowered expectations from Sun’s open source software by an Oracle far more concerned with proprietary software and hardware.