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Sun and Oracle: End of a beautiful dream

Open source goes to work

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Sun Microsystems' soon-to-be ex-chief executive has been painting his company's acquisition by database giant Oracle in positive tones.

Jonathan Schwartz called the proposed $5.6bn deal a "fantastic day for Sun's customers, developers, partners and employees across the globe". It will also "redefine" important boundaries in IT by eliminating cost and complexity in an industry focused on components.

At least, that's what he appeared to be saying.

The only thing that's going to get redefined is everything that Schwartz and Sun have worked towards for five-plus years: platform independence, open systems, and affordability. but Sun was in no position to implement these grand ideas thanks to its inertia and bureaucracy

Unless there's a radical shift in strategic direction or management thinking at Oracle, and unless Oracle adopts Sun's woolly and academic ways of thinking and operating, what you're looking at is the death of the philosophy of benevolent big-company sponsorship of Java and open-source, and the death of big-company price competition.

Some have said that Oracle is a better fit than IBM would have been, because of the clash between IBM's stuffed-shirted East Coast mindset and the free-thinking experimentalism of Sun. But Oracle is not a dream marriage. Oracle is a tough place. It routinely evaluates the performance of staff and chops around 10 per cent. Acquired staff and products must also justify their place in this Dawnian environment or they'll get chopped or boxed.

For example, Oracle spiked its own Java application server having bought the rival WebLogic Server from BEA Systems, because WebLogic was the better application server. It canned development of BEA's WebLogic Workshop development environment.

Oracle will take the decisions Sun could not - and that's what'll have people at Sun worried. And while change should be welcomed, there's no way this should be seen as a bright new dawn for Sun customers or those who've come to believe in its actions on open source or Java.

The first thing you can expect from a Oracle acquisition is due diligence of the assets and a comparative analysis where Oracle has competing assets. Oracle will weigh up what's worth keeping and jettison the rest. The latter will be marked by end-of-lifing via support and maintenance, or releasing code to the community - where it will fade and die.

Oracle initially had teamed up with Hewlett-Packard to buy just Sun's software business - or, rather, parts of it: Java, Solaris and MySQL. That deal was blocked by IBM.

These three software assets remain at the heart of this deal, only this time Oracle is also getting Sun's server and storage business for an additional $3.6bn.

So, why Java? Java is strategically critical to Oracle's middleware, development tools, application server, and database support. Oracle has been a life-long believer in Java, which - running on Linux - provides the perfect answer to Windows and .NET from Microsoft. Java also means licensing from all those enterprise ISVs and device manufacturers.

Solaris is important to Oracle, too. More copies of Oracle's database run on Solaris than on any another operating system - a fact chief executive Larry Ellison helpfully pointed out on Monday. Ellison talked of tuning its database to Solaris, which will help keep Oracle in major accounts such as telcos, service providers, and banks and financial services that might otherwise have been flirting with Linux and its database or - worse - Linux and MySQL and Postgres.

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