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

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.

Click here to read more about Oracle's acquisition of Sun.

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

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 10 years and more than 3,500 stories at eWEEK, he has distinguished...