Does Oracle matter to open source

So long as an open source project lives under a single corporate sponsor, its fate is tied up with that of the sponsor. When the sponsor is bought, the community can either live in the new house or go out into the cold cruel world, alone.

Analysts looked at Oracle's stack of chips for the last quarter and called it a bit light. (Thus this picture of Oracle's headquarters.)

Should followers of open source care?

Maybe they should. Once it acquires Sun, Oracle will be the largest sponsor of open source projects people use every day. We're talking Java, we're talking mySQL, we're talking OpenOffice.org.

Once Sun's portfolio is in Oracle's hands, the projects' budgets will survive on Oracle's sufferance, and if Oracle is fading those budgets will decline.

On the other hand maybe they shouldn't. The big alternative to Oracle in today's marketplace is IBM's DB2, which has an alliance with Oracle rival SAP. IBM may be the best friend open source has, with its sponsorship of Eclipse and proof that open source can make a profit.

What is clear is that big open source projects now live in a land of giants. After years of growth under independent leadership, or under the leadership of lagging sponsors, open source managers now find themselves reporting to small divisions of giant corporations.

There is a way out, but it will take work. Building companies that fork projects outside the control of the big boys is legally possible. Linux has all sorts of forks. I reported on one, ClearOS, just the other day.

Another way out is to build open source around foundations independent from any single vendor. Think Eclipse, Apache, and Mozilla.

So long as an open source project lives under a single corporate sponsor, its fate is tied up with that of the sponsor. When the sponsor is bought, the community can either live in the new house or go out into the cold cruel world, alone.

That's an important lesson from the Oracle-Sun story. It's a lesson that may be hard for other corporate open source companies to accept, but there it is. If you must rely on others, the best thing to do may be to rely on a collection of them.

If open source is corporate property, how big a difference is there really between it and proprietary software? Something to think about during a long football weekend.