How Will Oracle Handle Sun's Open-Source Commitments?

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-04-24 Print this article Print

An open-source community expert isn't convinced that Oracle, the prospective new owner of MySQL, Java and a host of other open-source development projects, will put the same kind of commitment into the community that Sun Microsystems does.

With the April 20 acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle, there is an impending change of guard involving the open-source community and its largest enterprise supporter.

Sun has harbored more open-source projects and developers-and had developed a larger outside community-than any other mainstream IT company. Thus, there is a great deal of trepidation about what changes the new boss will make in innovative IT enterprises.

Most people contacted by eWEEK on this topic said they believe that wholesale changes are in the cards, no matter what. A number of MySQL database administrators revealed a mixed bag of opinions on this topic April 23 to eWEEK.

High-visibility open-source projects such as MySQL, Java, OpenSolaris, GlassFish and NetBeans have been written about often in the week following the announcement of the acquisition, which is due to close in the summer of 2009. But not much has been said about a dozen or so smaller open-source projects (see list on the next page) being hatched at Sun Labs-projects that could very well one day grow up to be a Java or MySQL.

So what's going to happen to all this R&D?

"So far, Oracle has been fairly quiet about their intentions regarding Sun's open-source projects," OpenSUSE Community Manager and former Linux Foundation evangelist Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier of Novell wrote eWEEK via e-mail. "Given Oracle's history in open source, I'm skeptical that the company would continue the same level of involvement in promoting open source that Sun has pursued.

"In the next few months, I don't think much is going to change. However, I don't see Oracle continuing OpenSolaris as actively as Sun has, and I'm not sure how this would affect Java. I would like to think that Oracle would continue moving Java forward as an open-source project, but for the most part, Oracle has largely been a participant in FOSS [free and open-source software] projects where it suits the company's interests and not so much a leader in FOSS."

If it fits into the strategy, it may stay

Where it's strategic for Oracle to continue a project as open source, or simply too controversial to discontinue, Oracle will continue to participate, Brockmeier said.

"In the end, though, I think this will be a net loss for the community in terms of contributions. My gut feeling is that involvement in projects like GNOME will decline," Brockmeier said.

How trusted, in general, is Oracle by the community? Its biggest connections have been through Java, OpenSolaris and Red Hat.

"Generally, I think Oracle is viewed fairly neutrally," Brockmeier said. "They contribute to some projects and haven't been actively hostile to open source, but Oracle is pretty quiet most of the time. It's certainly not the first company you think of, or even the 10th, when you hear 'open source.'"

Oracle's "Unbreakable Linux" strategy is not encouraging for the prospect of the company maintaining Sun's existing levels of FOSS contributions, Brockmeier said.

"It seems the company is willing to contribute where it's absolutely necessary, but it's also not interested in doing some of the long-range heavy lifting that many FOSS vendors do to move open-source forward," Brockmeier said. "Maybe an infusion of Sun DNA will encourage Oracle to step up and be a more active player in FOSS. If not, it's a net loss for the community."

There's a lot of watching and waiting going on.

"IBM buying Sun seemed like a mixed bag, but likely a net positive for the community. I think there's some skepticism that Oracle will step up and become a more active FOSS contributor, but one hopes that Sun's FOSS commitments will live on after the deal," Brockmeier said.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel