TECH ANALYSIS: There is a lot of overlap for IBM and Sun in the areas of open source and operating systems, and in this case, that's a good thing. Solaris would give IBM a better Unix operating system than IBM's AIX, and the deal could enable IBM to take advantage of the significant open-source work that Sun has done. The combination of IBM and such open-source technologies as OpenSolaris, StarOffice and MySQL could mean a richer, happier open-source community.
Whenever a major acquisition-like the currently rumored IBM
acquisition of Sun Microsystems
-occurs, attention immediately turns to
product and technology overlap.
Too much overlap, and the deal doesn't make sense. The conventional wisdom
here seems reasonable enough, but we must pay attention to the way that open-source
development and licensing models-to which both Sun
adhere for a significant portion of their strategies-change our conventional
For starters, there's the IBM/Sun Unix
operating system overlap, which ZDNet's Dana Gardner saw fit to dismiss in
three curt words, "Unix? IBM
My colleague Jim
set it aside almost as swiftly: "And, let's face it: Both of
these OSes are pretty much legacy systems now-or are well on their way to that
I'd say that in the case of IBM's AIX,
Rapoza is correct in assigning the legacy label. Solaris, on the other hand, is
very much alive, with compelling stories around functionality (DTrace, Zones,
ZFS, Crossbow), hardware platform support (x86 as a first-class platform) and
community engagement (OpenSolaris) that put Solaris in a totally different
class than AIX.
Where today IBM offers up a minor
constellation of operating system options with which to run its broad server
lineup-from entry-level towers to giant mainframes-Solaris could give IBM
an operating system to scale from the bottom to the top of its line.
Also intriguing is the way that an IBM Solaris codebase might intersect with
the Linux codebase that IBM has spent the
last 10 years championing. Sun's licensing choice for OpenSolaris has kept the
Linux and Solaris code pools separate from each other, but IBM
could change this and allow those communities to merge.
Even better, IBM could license Solaris under
the GNU GPL (General Public License) while reserving the right to distribute
Solaris code under proprietary licenses as well-an option that, in the case of
its OpenOffice.org-based Symphony productivity suite, proved appealing enough
to prompt IBM to base Symphony on an aged,
but more liberally licensable, version of OpenOffice.org.
As the steward of Sun's StarOffice, IBM
could seed the open-source community while reserving for itself the freedom to
cut separate licensing arrangements. In fact, this dual-licensing option is a
thread that runs through almost all of Sun's open-source holdings, including
MySQL and Java.
There's no telling exactly what the result of such a series of IBM
open-source moves would be, but it seems clear that the open-source community
would be richer for the combination. And, as we've seen over the past decade, IBM
knows how to extract profit from open source. A rising open-source tide would
lift all vendor ships that opt to embrace it, and given its extensive services
business, IBM is sitting on an open-source
Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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