What does Oracle mean for Sun's open source efforts?

So much for a big blue Sun. Instead, the company is being gobbled up Oracle for about $7.

So much for a big blue Sun. Instead, the company is being gobbled up Oracle for about $7.4 billion. Does this mean that Oracle will become "the biggest contributor to open source," or a gaping hole in the FOSS ecosystem?

Sun often likes to brag that it's the largest contributor to open source -- and not without some justification. The company does participate in a lot of projects, and with OpenOffice.org, MySQL, and Java, controls some pretty hefty pieces of the open source ecosystem.

Ellison has already announced Oracle's intention to be "the only company that can engineer an integrated system – applications to disk – where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves." But the statement doesn't say diddly about Oracle's intentions towards Sun's open source holdings. It also mentions Solaris, but doesn't say anything about OpenSolaris. It's certainly understandable that MySQL users would be nervous about the news.

When IBM was courting Sun, there was a reasonable amount of optimism that it would be a good steward of Sun's open source efforts. Oracle seems like more of an unknown quantity. Oracle isn't hostile towards open source, but Oracle's participation in FOSS is very strategic (not that there's anything wrong with that) and narrowly focused to Oracle's interests, and certainly much quieter than IBM's. Oracle's statement has a one-sentence statement regarding its commitment to Linux, and nothing regarding the future of Oracle's open source projects, but nothing regarding its plans for pursuing (or not) open source strategies around Sun's existing projects.

Sun has been trying to build community around its various initiatives, but Oracle doesn't have a history here at all. Will it simply pick up where Sun left off? If Oracle's history is any indication, it's not big on preserving the culture of companies that it's snarfed up. Will Sun be any different?

For the near future, at least, I expect things to remain status quo. In the long term, though, it will be interesting to see if Oracle takes over community building where Sun leaves off, or if Oracle allows the communities to wither. While Oracle hasn't snuffed BerkeleyDB as a FOSS project, for example, it hasn't been nearly as visible as it was when Sleepycat was pushing BerkeleyDB.

From a business standpoint, I think IBM will regret letting Sun slip through its fingers. From an open source standpoint, the community may regret IBM's letting Sun slip through its fingers.


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