NEWS ANALYSIS: Oracle's $7.4 billion Sun acquisition will put an end to one of the most successful high-tech companies in Silicon Valley history, and the inspiration for so many enterprise startups that followed in the 1990s and 2000s. But it's a sad day most of all for the open-source community, which loses one of its strongest commercial software supporters.
is killing Sun Microsystems.
The two companies announced the $7.4 billion deal the morning of April 20.
For the rest of the tech industry, it's a sad day. Dress in black and mourn.
One of Silicon Valley's finest is gone. If the Valley
were a tree, Sun
would be one of its major roots. Like so many Valley
entrepreneurs that followed him, Sun co-founder Scott McNealy came from Stanford
University. McNealy and the other
Stanford-graduate co-founders brought intelligence and style to Valley startups.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, Sun's cool heat bathed many Valley startups
McNealy co-founded Sun in February 1982, based on Unix workstation work done
by another co-founder, Andy Bechtolsheim. Sun showed Valley startups how to be
all business. During the 1990s, the company craftily pushed into enterprise
computing with big-iron Unix servers that rivaled IBM
mainframes and ran software that reached where Windows couldn't scale.
Sun also took on Microsoft, in the courts: the lawsuit about Java, and the
antitrust complaint filed with the European Union in 1998. Sun lost more than
it gained from the Java scuffle, but scored a scathing victory in Europe;
there, in March 2004, trustbusters ruled that Microsoft acted anticompetively
by withholding protocol and other information necessary for third-party server
software to work well with Windows.
McNealy enjoyed the anti-Microsoft limelight during the 1990s. He gained
notoriety, and not all of it good, for mouthing off against Microsoft and
Chairman Bill Gates. McNealy's sharp criticisms-what some people might call
witticisms-shot out like solar flares from, well, the sun. After McNealy
abdicated the chief executive's chair to be only chairman, CEO
Jonathan Schwartz stepped into the anti-Microsoft limelight. But the color of
Sun's light changed. During Schwartz's tenure, Sun courted and embraced
open-source developers, releasing Solaris to open source as OpenSolaris,
bolstering its commitment to OpenOffice development and, in January 2008, acquiring
But for open source, the Oracle-Sun deal casts shadows of uncertainty. What
do about OpenOffice or MySQL? Will Oracle CEO
Larry Ellison gleefully pull the plug on LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl)?
MySQL is a nasty little competitor Oracle has no reason to keep. The
open-source database is as much a nuisance to Oracle as it is to Microsoft.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer finally has
something to thank Ellison for. Perhaps he should send flowers and a card. For
all the enmity generated by McNealy for Microsoft and Gates, the sale to Sun is
a precious gift-given suddenly, unexpectedly. For Microsoft, Oracle's Sun
acquisition is potentially a huge victory over open source.
Ballmer and Gates can thank McNealy for his part in undoing the deal with IBM.
merger would have been nasty for Microsoft. Sun software would
have strengthened IBM offerings in the
enterprise. IBM also could have used MySQL,
OpenOffice, Solaris and StarOffice as clubs with which to beat Microsoft. IBM
commands customer respect and delivers great service. Increased IBM
support for Sun open-source projects could only have been bad for Microsoft.
Oracle is a very different company from IBM.
While culturally IBM and Sun are thousands
of miles apart, light years seemingly separate the corporate cultures of Oracle
and Sun. If the companies were bears, Sun would be a panda and Oracle a
grizzly. Oracle's hard-ass tactics are legendary among enterprise IT
organizations. Many IT managers I've spoken to over the years, particularly in
government, complain that they may need Oracle software, but they don't love
the company for it. Sun is more loved-and for many reasons: the technology,
corporate culture and well-trained reseller channel. Buy buying Sun, Oracle
will get access to many new customers
in verticals such as government and
Oracle is sure to darken Sun, or at least what distinguished the company and
made it one of the fathers of so many Silicon Valley
startups. What Oracle gains, many other constituents-be they competitors,
customers or developers-will lose. Soft-spoken Schwartz will give way to loud
and frenetic Ellison. He casts a long and menacing shadow, surely enough to
obscure Sun's light.
Joe Wilcox is the editor of Microsoft Watch.