Oracle has acquired Sun: what now?

Sun Microsystems, as we knew it, has ceased to exist. When Oracle announced that they’d finalized the acquisition of Sun on January 27, sun.com became a redirect to oracle.com, with Sun’s web presence being entirely subsumed by Oracle’s. What’s more, a mass find-and-replace was in evidence, with such things as “Oracle’s Sun” and “Oracle Solaris” turning up.

I am hoping, as many others are, that Oracle will make good on their promises to invest heavily in Solaris and SPARC development and in fact develop both into the leading hardware and software platform for hosting Oracle databases. I am also hoping that Oracle will continue the trend of transparency that Sun started by opening Solaris, Java, and quite a few other products. There’s no reason that OpenSolaris, OpenJDK, NetBeans, OpenOffice.org and other projects can’t be forked and hosted elsewhere (although OpenSolaris continues to have certain closed binary bits which would require replacement), but certainly the best outcome for everyone involved would be for Oracle to continue to uphold Sun’s commitment to the community.

The thorniest issue, though, is MySQL. At first blush, it appears to be a massive conflict of interest for a company which is driven by selling proprietary database products to gain control of the most popular open-source database. Oracle has made certain commitments concerning MySQL, but a big question remains: what role will MySQL really play alongside Oracle Database? Oracle’s roadmap is cagey on the matter, but it seems clear that MySQL will remain subordinate to Oracle Database. That’s fine, so long as Oracle continues to deliver improvements to MySQL rather than leaving it to languish. There is a bellwether of sorts, as Oracle acquired Berkeley DB from Sleepycat Software in 2006, and since then they have continued to develop the software and provide new releases under the same open-source terms as earlier releases. We hope they will do the same with MySQL.

There has been one legitimate casualty so far; Oracle has announced that Project Kenai will be shut down. Sun spent a while pitching Kenai at CommunityOne East 2009, and I must admit that I was unimpressed at the time; it really wasn’t clear what Kenai did to distinguish itself from any of the other project-hosting options out there, and I’m not terribly concerned that it is being shut down.

In short, I am cautiously optimistic. It’s no secret that Sun has been taking hits lately, between the global recession, the downturn in the technology sector after the dot-com bubble burst, and the rise of Linux on x86 over Solaris on SPARC. I think Solaris is a great operating system, and SPARC is a great architecture—so if Oracle can do more with SPARC and Solaris than Sun was able to, then that’s something I can get behind. It will be sad to see the Sun name go—a name I grew up associating with serious computing power—but I would prefer that these genuinely excellent technologies change hands than die entirely.