Oracle + Sun: Good News or Bad News for Open Source?


The surprise announcement that Oracle is to buy Sun for $7.4 billion will provide fodder for news items, features, analyses, blog posts and tweets for many weeks to come as details begin to emerge and are pored over endlessly. But it's probably worth a very quick first attempt to delineate who are likely to be the winners and losers in this very interesting fusion.

I think one loser, at least in terms of perception, will be IBM. The long and painful discussions between Sun and IBM were becoming as tedious as those between Yahoo and Microsoft, and Oracle's nippy action makes it look as if IBM wasn't fast or smart enough to close the deal.

As well as perception, there's also the fact that it's bad news for IBM because putting Oracle and Sun together increases the clout of the former considerably in the corporate sector, and creates a much more powerful rival to Big Blue there.

That's actually quite good news for open source, though, because swallowing up Sun effectively turns a large chunk of the new, enlarged Oracle into an open source company.

If Sun's open source technologies aren't adopted by the enterprise, Oracle's main market, then the purchase will have been largely a waste of money. So through this move open source effectively gains an even bigger champion in business than it had in Sun.

The downside is that Oracle's feelings about open source – and hence its advocacy - are probably more ambiguous than Sun's. In particular, it seems to have very little truck with the more idealistic leanings of the free software side of things. Pragmatists might rejoice at that, but it does mean that Oracle will be aiming to use open source as a tool rather than see itself as an evangelist with a mission to convert.

That can be seen from the press release, where the “two key Sun software assets” that are named are Java and Solaris.

Java is relatively unproblematic, since Sun always managed it tightly, and Oracle will doubtless carry on in that vein. Thanks to Sun's decision to release it under the GNU GPL, people are pretty free to do with it as they wish. Oracle's backing should ensure that Java becomes even more important in enterprise settings – and that could be a big boost for open source in quite an unexpected way.

For a little while, I have detected a feeling that Java is a little passé, what with all the exciting new alternatives now available. With Oracle putting its weight behind the language, and able to push it in very different contexts from Sun, I think we will see something of a renaissance for Java. That's not only good news for Java itself, but also for all the open source projects that depend upon it – including Google's Android platform.

With more people programming in Java, I suspect that there will be more corporate uptake of the Android platform, whose programming environment suddenly begins to look more relevant to businesses – more so than that of the iPhone, perhaps.

"Recommended For You"

Oracle and Sun customers face negotiating challenge Covetus the Sun installed base