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Oracle suits to strap on Sun's Java sandals

Leader without followers

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Along with Linux, Java's been one of the biggest boons for Oracle. It's become the anchor of Oracle's middleware and developer strategy, and - with Linux - ended Oracle's one-time dependence on Microsoft as the only alternative to IBM.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin has said he does not see Oracle's commitment to Linux lessening just because it wants to take ownership of a Solaris business.

Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison, meanwhile, noted Java's value, calling it the most important piece of software his company has ever bought. "Oracle is now able to make all of the pieces of the technology stack fit together and work well," he said

But owning Sun - creator and steward of Java - does not mean Oracle "owns" Java in the same way it's picked up other companies customers in the past. Quite the contrary: Oracle will have to convince people its intentions are good.

For the first time in any of its many acquisitions, Oracle's getting more than products and customers along with a purchase: It's getting a cause.

Oracle will step into the lead position on the Java Community Process, the body responsible for new APIs - Java Specification Requests - in Java. Oracle will also become the lead on many JSRs that lead by Sun. That will worry those who fear Oracle has no time for community or that Oracle will only work those JSRs that are important to its middleware business.

Oracle, though, has a long history of working through industry standards bodies like OASIS and the W3C and on formats such as ODF. In fact, Oracle and Sun thought nothing of teaming up on proposed standards and specifications. Sometimes, this was big-vendor politics. Other times, this was the companies supporting the "better" proposal.

But the company is not regarded as an idealist in the same vein as Sun. Much to its chagrin, its charitable works - such as numerous contributions to the Linux kernel and work on Java - frequently get overlooked by the community, while IBM gets all the credit.

Owning the Java flag won't necessarily advantage Oracle, or its middleware. The excitement from developers in Java is in small or modular open-source frameworks and tools, typified by companies such as SpringSource - home of the Spring Framework.

The JCP has lost its authority among the people involved in this work or using these frameworks. The JCP is seen as a big-vendor talking shop. And JCP member Oracle is just another big vendor.

Furthermore, while Oracle's chief architect Ed Scrivens said this week Java is important to Oracle's middleware, Oracle is not going to get any automatic loyalty from the deal. The best it can do is set out the technology birdseed and hope developers feed periodically at its table.

Any move by Oracle to push a Java Enterprise Edition agenda through the JCP or elsewhere will not only be irrelevant, but will confirm developers suspicions and drive them further away.

As SpringSource chief executive, and Spring founder Rod Johnson blogged: "We agree with Oracle that enterprise Java has a big future. In fact, we are convinced we can help take it to the next level of productivity. But Oracle does not own that future. One of the great strengths of Java is its developer and open source community. This is something that cannot be bought in the same way as a PeopleSoft or WebLogic application server business."

SourceForge's director of community Ross Turk told The Reg Oracle's play on Java seemed to re-enforce its enterprise strategy - to provide a single-vendor solution. He also noted that he's concerned about what Oracle will do to the open-source MySQL database. SourceForge is home to 13,000 projects that use MySQL.

"In the web world people are turning to go for lighter frameworks, But in the Oracle world, applications above the database and middleware - a lot of it is still Java. It seems what they are going for is an Apple-esque single vendor solution, that you don't really get anywhere else these days," Turk said.

There is an opportunity here. Oracle's ownership of the Java "cause" and some of the mechanisms provide an opportunity to win back dissidents through a re-invigorated JCP. For all its talk of community, Sun failed to resolve a lingering licensing dispute with the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) over its implementation of Java Standard Edition.

The only question is how far Oracle - a very business-first operation - is willing to play the community card. ®

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