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

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Moreover, this development would fit nicely with the increasing number of Android developments in new contexts – netbooks, consumer devices etc. As a result of all this interest from across the computing spectrum, Android is going to become much hotter, and that will drive even faster innovation, development and uptake in this area. Bad news for the other Linux-based mobile platforms perhaps, and certainly bad news for people like Symbian and Microsoft.

The other “key software asset” explicitly mentioned is Solaris. We're also given a hint of why Oracle likes Solaris:

The Sun Solaris operating system is the leading platform for the Oracle database, Oracle’s largest business, and has been for a long time. With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle can optimize the Oracle database for some of the unique, high-end features of Solaris.

This is indeed a great match. The one card that Solaris could play against GNU/Linux was that it has always been designed as a high-end system.

To be sure, GNU/Linux has been catching up all the time, but Solaris probably still has an advantage here – one that I'm sure Oracle will press to the full. Oracle's database running on Solaris will surely become the company's preferred offering, and that has two very important, and rather negative implications for open source.

The first, obviously, is for GNU/Linux. It's noteworthy that Oracle feel compelled to address this directly in the press release:

Oracle is as committed as ever to Linux and other open platforms and will continue to support and enhance our strong industry partnerships.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge you might like to acquire. Oracle's Unbreakable Linux product has always been controversial, not least because people weren't sure whether Oracle really supported it, or just supported what customers said they wanted. Now that it has a viable alternative, I'm sure we'll see Unbreakable Linux downplayed as a solution.

And what is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander: Oracle's acquisition of Sun means that it will also own MySQL – effectively, the GNU/Linux of databases. There is no way that Oracle will promote MySQL heavily; at best it will become the low-end alternative for customers who moan that the main Oracle database offering is too costly.

And so what I expect to see is a two-pronged attack: Oracle database running on Solaris for top end, and MySQL running on GNU/Linux at the bottom. Now, Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma teaches us that this is not a stable situation – the disruptive, low-cost entrant will always gain features allowing it increasingly to cannibalise the established leader's market share

I suspect that one of the things that made Sun so attractive was that buying it Oracle could attempt to deal with two open source threats at once – one direct, the other more indirect. Its aim will be to throttle the upstart pretender to the throne in order to protect the reigning monarch. That's going to be bad for both GNU/Linux and MySQL, but particularly the latter. I suspect that its development will begin to lose momentum – especially since Marten Mickos is no longer with Sun to fight its corner – and that interest in alternative open source databases will increase.

Forks of MySQL might be another interesting possibility.

Finally, a big but maybe rather surprising winner of the Oracle/Sun deal could be OpenOffice.org. Oracle has never really had any offering for the mainstream desktop, and an office suite fills the gap nicely.

Imagine what would happen to OpenOffice.org's market share if Oracle starts to offer its enterprise customers deals they can't refuse on the desktop? It could easily be an added sweetener – use our database and we'll give you a corresponding number of licences to the StarOffice (the commercial version of OpenOffice.org) with full Oracle support.

That would provide a huge boost to the ODF standard and OpenOffice.org as a consequence.

This, in its turn, would be really bad news for Microsoft at a time when it is already beginning to show signs of weakness in the operating system sector with the continued failure to come up with a popular, viable alternative to Windows XP.

Exactly which parts of open source will benefit from Oracle's move obviously depends on the details of how Oracle decides to absorb the company and to fit Sun's products alongside its own. But as well as downsides, there is plenty of scope for major benefits to flow from the move. One thing is for sure: things in the open source world just got even more interesting.

Follow me on Twitter @glynmoody.

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