Sun may be a diminished company these days, but it remains an influential one. Through its open-source products and the massive development communities that have been built up around them, Java and MySQL in particular, Sun has a pull that rivals those of companies with far larger and healthier balance sheets.
But with the reported acquisition talks between IBM and Sun, there are questions about what IBM might do with Sun's technologies,particularly Java and open source products.
Forrester analyst James Staten said, “IBM has wanted to get its hands on Java for some time as it is a key intellectual property for WebSphere.” However, Java developers are anxious about whether the comparative openness that surrounds Java would survive an IBM takeover.
Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, sees an inherent conflict between Sun's open-source culture and what he thinks is IBM's continuing proprietary direction. Although IBM has been a supporter of Linux, its embrace of the open-source operating system "is in the context of what serves IBM," Haff said.
That tack is even more obvious in the database market, according to Haff. Buying Sun would give IBM the MySQL open-source database, which Sun acquired last year. But, Haff said, "IBM doesn't push open-source databases, they push DB2."
There are a range of possible motives for why IBM might want to acquire Sun. Such a deal could be a defensive manoeuvre against Cisco Systems' decision to enter the server business and try to play a more prominent role in datacentres, long the domain of companies like IBM, Sun and Hewlett-Packard.
IBM also could be looking to bolster its ability to compete against Microsoft via technologies such as Linux and Java, and some observers think that MySQL would be an attraction for IBM.
And of course, Sun is still a major hardware vendor with a considerable installed base, even though the struggling company has bet its future on the success of its open-source strategy and its emerging cloud computing services. Sun's overall revenue dropped 11% in the quarter that ended in December, but the company still reported server sales of about $1.2 billion during that period.
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