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21 April 2009, 13:51

With Oracle buying Sun what will become of Java, MySQL and OpenOffice?

by Alexandra Kleijn

Following weeks of speculation over whether and on what terms IBM would purchase Sun, it's now database giant Oracle which is to take over the ailing business, with the result that OpenSolaris, Java, MySQL and OpenOffice are now under new management.

Oracle/Sun It seems that IBM's offer failed to find favour with Sun's management board (neither of the companies has officially commented on rumours of a planned IBM takeover of Sun) – and the hardware and software vendor is now to be purchased by Oracle. If everything goes to plan and the shareholders give the go-ahead, Sun could be on the database giant's balance sheet by the summer. Shareholders are to receive $9.50 per share. This puts the purchase price – including Sun's debts – at $7.4 billion. With Oracle already predicting profits from the acquisition (1.5 billion in the first year, 2 billion in the following year), the deal should prove more digestible than earlier Oracle takeovers such as PeopleSoft, Siebel and BEA.

Oracle boss Larry Ellison said "The acquisition of Sun transforms the IT industry,". What remains to be seen is what the takeover will mean for Sun's open source portfolio. In recent years Sun has steered strongly towards open source and the company has migrated two of its flagship products, OpenSolaris and Java, to open source. OpenOffice has long been owned by Sun, which has also acquired further open source technologies such as MySQL and VirtualBox vendor Innotek in a – conspicuously successful – attempt to position itself as a major open source supplier. But what role will Sun's open source portfolio play at Oracle?

Java fulfils a strategic role for the database vendor, with Oracle's Fusion middleware product based on Java. The company has described Java as the most important software it has ever purchased. Java is currently under the GPL, and even if Oracle should, for whatever reason, chose to return future Java development to closed source, it can be safely assumed that there would be sufficient interest in an open source Java to ensure its continued development.

OpenSolaris, which is, according to Oracle, the most commonly used platform for its own database, is also an important purchase for the database vendor, although this probably applies more to the commercial version of Solaris than OpenSolaris. With its Red Hat clone Unbreakable Linux, Oracle has, however, already made an, admittedly not altogether successful attempt at adding an open source operating system to its portfolio and it should be of little consequence to Oracle whether Solaris' development continues as open or closed source. Development of OpenSolaris has previously been carried out primarily by Sun staff – the operating system would stand little chance as a pure community project.

The company is likely to have less use for open source database MySQL, despite the fact that Oracle itself tried in vain to purchase MySQL AB three years ago. Sun finally acquired the Swedish database vendor for $1 billion a little over a year ago. MySQL is not mentioned in the statement on the Sun takeover. The FAQPDF on the takeover contains just a single dry sentence, "MySQL will be an addition to Oracle’s existing suite of database products, which already includes Oracle Database 11g, TimesTen, Berkeley DB open source database, and the open source transactional storage engine, InnoDB." What this means – MySQL as Oracle Light? – remains as unclear as the direction of future MySQL development.

It's fortunate that the leading figures behind MySQL already have other irons in the fire. Former CEO Marten Mickos followed MySQL founders David Axmark and Monty Widenius by quitting his new employer in February. Widenius is now working on MariaDB, his own version of MySQL, at his new company Monty Program Ab.

And what of OpenOffice? It would certainly have found a better home at IBM. IBM is one of the most important proponents of the ODF open document format and already sells an OpenOffice based product in the form of Lotus Symphony. The takeover might perhaps offer an opportunity to transfer development of the LGPLv3-licensed office suite to an independent foundation. There should be more than enough interest from companies beyond just IBM, such as the Linux distributors, for instance, including, Novell, which has long been involved with OpenOffice.


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