eWEEK Labs on IBM/Sun: Open-Source Community Would Win

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2009-03-18 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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 and IBM adhere for a significant portion of their strategies-change our conventional overlap equations.

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 has one."

My colleague Jim Rapoza 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 status."

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 supertanker.

Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at jbrooks@eweek.com.

More eWEEK Labs analyses about the effects of a possible IBM/Sun merger:

eWEEK Labs Examines IBM, Sun Product Synergies, Overlap

Storage Is the Key Technology

Directory That Lives Competes More Strongly with Microsoft Active Directory

Databases Would Feed Off Each Other

 
 
 
 
As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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