Database giant Oracle's plan to buy Sun for $7.4 billion could lead to a stronger position for Java software in
the enterprise. This theme seems to emerge in postings by and discussions with members of the Java development community.
At the same time, developers and others voice concerns over the fate of MySQL, the open-source database that would become part of the Oracle portfolio if the deal gets final approval.
The proposed Oracle-Sun merger is often seen in relation to a reported IBM-Sun merger. Recent negotiations between IBM and Sun apparently collapsed, leading quickly to the Oracle-Sun nuptials.
"Overall I think this is a much better situation than having IBM buying Sun," said Eugene Ciurana, principal, CIME Software Labs and contributing editor to TheServerSide.com, a TechTarget publication.
"Java is not evolving as fast as it could. Things move too slow. If you compound that with IBM taking control of Java, then Java could completely stagnate," suggested Ciurana.
"Oracle has every reason in the world to accelerate Java innovation. Technologically they have more at stake in making sure that Java is successful," he continued.
"This is going to be a very formidable opponent," said Ciurana. "In the end, that will help Java because more competition means more options for the participants."
Optimization in the cards?
Still, there will be a period of adjustment for Java users, according to industry viewer Judith Hurwitz. "There will continue to be general nervousness, but no more so than was the case when Java was a platform that Sun controlled," said Hurwitz, who heads Hurwitz Associates. "Customers and companies that depend on Java will take a wait and see attitude."
Hurwitz said Oracle, which has been on a buying spree for several years, has proved effective at mergers. Oracle has put "pretty good processes in place for integrating their acquisitions," she said.
Looking ahead, she suggested that Oracle might be do more optimization of Java around their software.
Other viewers question whether Oracle can quickly absorb Sun. "For one thing, they are still digesting BEA," said Eric Newcomer, independent consultant, in an email. "For another Sun has so many technical assets it's going to be very challenging to sort it all out."
"Remember," Newcomer cautioned, "Netscape, SeeBeyond, Forte, GlassFish [the open-source Java application server], and MySQL are all Sun owned, just to mention a few of the overlaps."
However, Newcomer does see a possible positive outcome in for the overall competitive landscape.
"Obviously, this also shifts the industry balance and produces a stronger competitor for IBM and HP for computing system sales, regardless of the degree to which Oracle is able to succeed in its goals of creating cohesive solutions," said Newcomer.
An advocate of the OSGi component standard, Newcomer sees positive results for OSGi, which has been fully endorsed by Oracle, but more spottily endorsed by Sun.
MySQL viability questioned
Clearly, Sun has many parts for Oracle to swallow. Like Oracle, it was on a bit of a buying spree too. It bulked up with companies like Netscape, NetBeans, SeeBeyond, and MySQL AB.
A wild card for now in the Oracle-Sun merger is MySQL. The database has found wide use among developers. "The people who have something to worry about are the MySQL 'guys,'" said Eugene Ciurana. He is not alone in his apprehension.
Even before Sun went on the sales block, there were concerns that MySQL was starting to lose some momentum as a unified offering. Key MySQL personnel left Sun in recent months.
"Even before this, some of the folks in the MySQL community were concerned that some of the thought-leaders had left Sun and were wondering if Sun could move the product forward," said analyst Mike Gilpin, Forrester. "Now we are even less sure about what would happen with MySQL."
There is some concern that Oracle lacks the skills to use MySQL as a valuable functioning asset. "The problem with this is that Sun has already lost control of MySQL. With the MySQL team out of the company and the code base forking, there's very little leverage other than professional services," wrote Miko Matsumura, vice president and deputy CTO of Software AG, on his blog. Oracle provides almost no leverage in professional services compared to IBM."
Naturally there is some controversy given the fact that Oracle is a big database company and the purchase might further disintegrate the unity of the MySQL brand to the advantage of Oracle's primary and highly profitable database business. Gilpin notes, "Now (MySQL) is a threat to Oracle, with which they had to deal to a certain extent. From Oracle's perspective, this gives them a way to manage the future of MySQL to keep it from cannibalizing Oracle's DBMS."
On discussion threads on TheServerSide.com, numerous concerns emerged on Oracle's owning MySQL. Wrote one community member: "They will kill MySQL for sure."
Others were more hopeful. "MySQL definitely has a future, even if it's not with Oracle," wrote 'Les Hazelwood.'
The poster continued: "If Oracle tries to kill MySQL, you can rest assured it will be forked and maintained by someone else. MySQL has a massive install base - Oracle would be stupid to cut that out from under themselves … even if they are stupid enough to do that, some reputable company will come in, take the GPL'd source, fork it, and maintain it under a different name and cash in on the massive community that would use it."
An Oracle-owned MySQL may show the unpredictability of open source software as it borders on commercialism. TheServerSide.com community member 'Florin Gheorghies' thinks buying Sun was a strategic move, and that MySQL will continue to operate under Oracle. "Oracle will continue to let MySQL flourish at the expense of PostgreSql. Oracle will provide an upgrade path to whatever product /service plan they may want to offer enterprise users of MySQL. The best way to contain your competition is to own it. Well done Oracle," comments 'Gheorghies.'
[Includes reporting by Lauren Kelly and George Lawton.]