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Sun's IBM-mainframe flower wilts under Oracle's hard gaze

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Larry Ellison likes to buzz rotten fruit off some corporate type’s head. Over the years Microsoft, PeopleSoft, BEA Systems, SAP, and Red Hat have lined up to be been duly pelted during calls with Wall St or during Oracle's mega OpenWorld customer and partner conference.

It's all good theater in Silicon Valley, but it's theater nonetheless, and a form of performance that will always have a shallow veneer. When there's money involved, you can say what you want about your rivals during a conference call - it's just words.

For example: almost two-thirds of SAP implementations run on Oracle's database, which means SAP - a company regularly pilloried by Ellison - actually translates into big money and helps keep Oracle's chief executive in yachts.

Turning to Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems, then, it's with some justification that those people involved in technologies that were spun up by Sun during its era of a thousand blooming flowers and that have little visible business return on investment should now feel worried.

Users of Sun's Project Kenai hit the panic button recently after Oracle said it was bringing Sun's Web 2.0 code-hosting site in-house. Oracle U-turned, blaming a - ahem - "miscommunication".

The OpenSolaris community started screaming that it was being ignored by Oracle. The giant responded to say it wasn't ignoring them, it was just overworked getting its arms around the whole Sun thing.

To the ranks of the concerned, you can now add those working to put Solaris and OpenSolaris on IBM's Z-series mainframe. One Solaris on Z-series supporter contacted The Reg to say:

The SystemZ port of Solaris is dead. Oracle pulled all plugs and refused to further help the authors to help. Critical parts are closed parts of libc.so.1, the core user land library which has closed source parts. Oracle now refuses to give precompiled binaries of newer versions of the closed parts to the SystemZ port community, effectively ending this port because the missing bits cannot be replicated or bypassed.

Also concerned is David Boyes, president and chief technologist of Sine Nomine Associates - the engineering firm that helped put OpenSolaris on IBM's System Z mainframe in 2008. OpenSolaris was to become part of the main Solaris product.

Boyes told The Reg that the Sun employee working on the port has gone - chopped as the result of Ellison's cull of Sun staff - and hasn't been replaced. Boyes is certain Oracle is not going to replace that person.

Oracle was unable to comment for this article.

On paper, the future is not too bright for Solaris or OpenSolaris on IBM's mainframe platform. In two years of the project's life, it's been downloaded just 1,000 times - sometimes repeatedly by the same organizations. Otherwise, we're told there are "plenty" of proofs of concept.

Boyes told us it's wrong to say Oracle has "killed" OpenSolaris on IBM's mainframe, but he noted the future is up for grabs as Oracle is grooming through the old Sun's software and project assets and deciding what to do with them. The party line from Oracle here and during the recent EclipseCon and the Open Source Business Conference is that it's still working through projects and deciding what to do.

"This is all about politics and has noting to do with technology," Boyes said, angry that so much of this own company's time - 20,000 to 30,000 hours - dedicated to the project could have been for nothing. "Guys who worked on the Power and Intel work outside of Sun are pretty damn pissed," he said.

He added that while source code for OpenSolaris is still available and can still be enhanced, unless Oracle commits to putting Sun's operating system on IBM's Z mainframe he'll have to put it on the back burner. "It will no longer have the priority if they make it clear this is going nowhere, and we will have to reconsider what we are doing," Boyes said.

Boyes is right. This is political. Solaris has a future inside Oracle, on Exadata servers running Oracle's database. Where OpenSolaris fits into that is unclear.

As for Solaris on the platform of a competitor that Ellison has taken enormous pleasure in pelting since the Sun acquisition, well - if Ellison does kill it, it won't be for theatrical reasons. It'll be because he's decided he can't make any money by having his own software run on IBM hardware.

If you want a sign of how much things have changed under the new management even at this early stage, consider this lesson from another corner of the OpenSolaris and Solaris camp.

InfoWorld has reported that Oracle has tweaked the Solaris download license, so that you can no longer download Solaris for free. You can now only use Solaris for free as part of a 90-day trial if you purchase a service contract. Under that nice but slightly stoopid Sun all you had to do was jump through the hoops of some online survey and make sure you were smart enough to give a working email address for the download.

Yes, the flowers are wilting and anything that survives under Oracle will only bloom if it can deliver a return on Sun's investment. ®

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