Rumor has it, IBM is looking at buying Sun. No surprise that we're seeing consolidation in a down market, but will this mean consolidation in the open source space?
I'll let others speculate on the affect it might have on the hardware market, but I'm curious what would happen to the open source operating system ecosystem. Would IBM keep trying to build a separate OpenSolaris community, or put all the weight behind Linux?
The two communities can (and do) exist side-by-side, and Sun's contributions to FOSS projects like GNOME benefit the entire FOSS ecosystem - not just OpenSolaris. Sun doesn't have the same conflict of interest that IBM would, though.
Would IBM continue to support Linux if it had a second open source operating system to look after? In trying economic times, one has to wonder. IBM has been a staunch supporter of Linux, but the company has also dabbled in OpenSolaris, and still maintains AIX. From the corporate viewpoint, it might seem to make more sense to back either Linux or OpenSolaris, rather than maintaining AIX, OpenSolaris, and putting support into Linux as well.
Linux and OpenSolaris are both free *nix operating systems, so why does it matter if IBM goes the OpenSolaris route? It comes down to control: No single vendor controls Linux's destiny. Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and all of the other vendors participating in Linux development have limited control over development, and their customers have plenty of options.
Even the Linux Foundation is merely a steward for some of the community's resources, and doesn't control the direction of the kernel or the larger software ecosystem that make up Linux distros.
Customers have their choice of Linux vendors, contributors have their choice of projects to contribute to. That's not really true of OpenSolaris. For Solaris/OpenSolaris, there's really only one game in town. True, a few OpenSolaris derivatives have popped up, but none have the resources of a major company or large project behind them. Backing OpenSolaris means putting a lot of trust in the company behind it. True, the community or a competitor could fork OpenSolaris, but bootstrapping that sort of thing would take time and a lot of effort.
And for IBM, OpenSolaris would require a lot more manpower in the long run. It seems that it would make more sense for Big Blue to provide a migration path for Solaris customers to Linux.
It's all speculation right now, but if the deal goes through, I hope IBM signals its intentions early on.