Oracle and Sun announced a few days ago that Oracle will buy Sun. Others are more apt than me to comment on the financial and strategic impacts of this move (for example, in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or on Slashdot). I’m more interested in the potential implications this move could have on some Open Source projects which were backed by Sun. I indeed believe Oracle will continue the development of his contributions to Open Source software, whether they are notable (Btrfs or Oracle Enterprise Linux) or less visible.
In the last few years, Sun opened or started to open some of its (key) software like OpenOffice.org, Netbeans, OpenSolaris, Java, … Sometimes these moves were considered as a last hope to see them used (and developed) at a lower cost for Sun. Very often, these moves were criticised because the “opening” was only partial (non-free licenses, stranglehold on the development processes, …) or just announced (Java still needs to be fully opened). However, the openings of OpenOffice.org and Netbeans can be seen as successes: OpenOffice.org is a more and more used office suite and Netbeans fairly competes with another open development source-editor-cum-development-platform, Eclipse. In the beginning of 2008, Sun acquired MySQL AB, the company behind the probably most used database system for website development, MySQL. Unfortunately, rumors spread that Sun will close some of the MySQL features, leading to forks like Maria(DB) (rumors where later dismissed). Anyway, these software are (nearly) free. But they may not be in Oracle strategic plannings.
Oracle now owns 2 database management systems: Oracle and MySQL. Although they maybe do not compete at the same level and although I don’t see Oracle dumping one RDBMS (because of their respective user base), it could become expensive to maintain 2 code bases for the same goal.
Oracle now owns 2 operating systems too: Oracle Enterprise Linux and (Open)Solaris. And here, they compete at the same level: on enterprise desktops and servers. The beauty of Open Source is that OpenSolaris may survive thanks to its community if it would be abandoned by Oracle.
Oracle has now the lead on the development of an IDE, Netbeans, while it extensively uses and promotes its rival, Eclipse. Fortunately for Netbeans, it has a strong community behind … I guess it’s approximately the same for Sun virtualisation software, VirtualBox (no immediate use for Oracle) but I’m not really following these technologies so I won’t bet anything on this.
Oracle now also has the lead on the development of Java, a programming language cherished by a lot of companies around the world (some say Java is the COBOL of the 1990s …). Oracle also uses Java for its tools so I guess Oracle will continue its development. Whether the opening of Java will continue and if it does, at what speed, one can assume it will depend on the financial and/or fame benefits Oracle can gain from it.
Oracle owns now an office suite. I don’t really see how it fits into Oracle software portfolio unless Oracle really pushes hard its adoption in companies where Microsoft Office has a monopoly. Or Oracle intends to beat Microsoft by offering a complete solution, from corporate servers (with Oracle DB, Enterprise Linux, BEA/Tomcat application servers and Sun hardware) to corporate desktops (with OpenSolaris (?) and OpenOffice.org), Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison being known to forecast the end of Microsoft. By providing top-to-toe-solutions, this would make Oracle the next IBM but this is another subject.
So, except for Java (and maybe OpenOffice.org), I’m rather pessimistic on the future of these Open Source / free software projects. Does this mean that they will not survive? I don’t think so. They users/fans base is sometimes huge. And similar high-quality Open/Free projects live very well without one big corporation behind them ; think of PostgreSQL, Linux, Eclipse, Python/Ruby, etc.
Ryan Paul wrote an article in ArsTechnica on the same topic, for those who are interested.