January 21, 2010
Few were surprised by the European Union's approval of Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems announced Thursday. Even critics expect it to proceed smoothly to completion now. But with the merger prospect more immediate, some observers are taking a more realistic look at what changes might result.
Rod Johnson, founder of SpringSource and now general manager of VMware's SpringSource unit, said in an interview Thursday that he expected Oracle to maintain the Java programming language and its Java Community Process that provides ongoing development of it. Johnson sits on an executive committee of the JCP, overseeing key development initiatives.
"It's not in the business interest of Oracle to do anything that would damage the Java ecosystem," with its portfolio of Java applications and middleware, he noted. The world of development is roughly equally divided between Microsoft's .Net technologies versus Java and a small set of open source scripting languages.
At the same time, he said, there are potential toll gates for software firms that depend on Java, some of whom are Oracle competitors. Sun charged Java vendors for use of its Java test suite, the set of more than 30,000 tests that provided the only means for certifying that a new piece of software was "pure" Java. In addition, Sun charged a license fee to vendors who embedded the Java Virtual Machine in their products.
"Oracle's practice is to increase prices as much as the traffic will bear, then increase them a little more," said Johnson, who is also the lead developer of the Spring Framework open source Java development platform. VMware acquired SpringSource in August for $362 million.
When Oracle acquired BEA Systems, it ramped up the price tag of WebLogic application server by 42%, he said. Oracle may be tempted to increase the price tags on the test suite and JVM. But doing so unreasonably will drive software vendors to the open Java and JVM alternatives, he said.
When it comes to Sun's Java middleware, the picture is more likely to be mixed. Oracle has no need for another Java application server, having both its own Oracle Application Server and WebLogic. But Sun's Glassfish Java application server was beginning to gain some traction as developers downloaded and used it for new projects.
"As I understand it, that traction began to disappear as Oracle announced its plans to acquire Sun" April 20, and the Glassfish project is likely to be cut loose and ignored as a contributor to the Oracle product line, he predicted. "I think there has to be some concern that it's not in Oracle's interest for MySQL to become competitive function-wise with the Oracle database. Oracle doesn't want price pressure coming from MySQL," Johnson said.
A second observer, Roger Burkhardt, CEO of the open source Ingres database company and an Oracle competitor, was one of the first to raise his voice in saying that the European Commission had it wrong if it viewed MySQL as a direct competitor with Oracle.
It served a different purpose in the marketplace, primarily as a high-speed, read-only server of Web pages, he said in an InformationWeek interview Sept. 4, a comment that was repeated widely by other industry participants, including IBM spokesmen to the European Commission.
But keeping all of MySQL's development initiatives intact after the acquisition may prove difficult, despite Oracle's public list of R&D commitments to MySQL.
As an example, Burkhardt cited changes his staff has observed on the MySQL Web site since the European Commission held its final hearings on the proposed acquisition in December. What Oracle will do with Sun's Identity Manager and Portal Server products will be part of the "massive digestion exercise" that now awaits it, once the acquisition is completed.
When it comes to the MySQL open source database, Johnson said he heard Oracle declare it didn't compete with MySQL so many times that it began to sound like "Oracle didn't have any competitors."
"MySQL used to offer information on migrating from Oracle to MySQL. They had a nice methodology, a flowchart and tools," Burkhardt said in an interview. He said his staff has observed MySQL staffers over the last six weeks minimizing or eliminating information on their Web site. "That stuff has been taken down," he declared.
Burkhardt said he is on the lookout for how MySQL's relationships with partners who are Oracle competitors change after the acquisition. He thinks another change in MySQL staff outlook will be to show sensitivity to Oracle in what partner products they offer alongside MySQL, weeding out those of direct competitors.
"This is business. Oracle has bought that [MySQL AB] business," he said, but MySQL users shouldn't believe nothing will change after the acquisition. The Web site changes indicate a sensitivity within the MySQL staff to Oracle interests that will only be heightened once the acquisition is completed, Burkhardt said.
One observer, Nobby Akiha, senior VP of marketing at Actuate, a supplier of business intelligence reporting applications, was optimistic Oracle will be able to steer the right course. Actuate has incorporated the Eclipse Foundation's BIRT open source code into its proprietary product, while supporting the open source community, he said.
"If Oracle sticks to its commitment to spend more on R&D, maintain healthy relations with third-party developers and launch advisory board to help guide MySQL's future, we imagine they'll see great success," he said in an e-mail to InformationWeek.
Oracle already owns InnoDB and Berkeley DB, embeddable open source code systems that it acquired and maintains, without complaints, as open source code.
But Florian Mueller, the EU campaigner opposed to the deal and advisor to Michael Widenius, one of MySQL's original authors, remained unmollified. In an message, he said the EC's decision was "based on wishful thinking for the future, more than anything else. "
Many observers say MySQL is OK inside Oracle because if Oracle artificially restrains it, the code can fork and a new open source version launched. "Forks are a legal possibility but there's no reason to assume than any MySQL fork could threaten Oracle to the extent that MySQL could."
He said the commitments Oracle had made to continue development of MySQL "are not legally binding." Once the owner of MySQL, "I can't think of a single bad thing, short of discontinuing the product immediately, that Oracle couldn't do, while still complying fully with those promises in a legal sense," he wrote.
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