What happens to Sun's open-source software now?

The deal is done. Oracle now owns Sun. Oracle's main message to Sun's customers seems to be "Don't worry, be happy." That's not easy when Oracle is not explaining in any detail what it will be doing with open-source software offerings like MySQL, OpenOffice and OpenSolaris.

In general, we know that Sun's software product catalog will be cut back and that many Sun staffers will soon be laid off. Historically, when Oracle acquires a company, deep cuts are the rule. For example, Oracle fired about 5,000 workers after acquiring PeopleSoft. This time around, Oracle is saying that there will be only about a thousand layoffs. In particular, although no one is going on record, it's feared that Sun's open-source groups will take the brunt of these cuts.

No one is going on record either with what's going to happen to Sun's open-source software. We do know that at least one small open-source project, Project Wonderland, a Java-based platform for developing 3-D virtual worlds, has been cut off from Sun resources. In addition, Oracle is shutting down Project Kenai, Sun's collaborative hosting site for free and open-source programs.

As for the big open-source projects, after talking with people close to the situation, no one at the former Sun knows what Oracle has in mind, and Oracle isn't talking. Based on what I have picked up, years of experience in watching Oracle and Sun, and what Oracle isn't saying is what I think is in store for Sun's major open-source programs.

MySQL's founder, Michael 'Monty' Widenius, was a leader against Oracle's acquisition of Sun. His opposition to the deal was in vain, but by getting the European Commission to keep a close eye on Oracle and its plans for MySQL, I think, in the short run at least, Widenius and his allies have made sure that MySQL can't vanish beneath Oracle's notoriously expensive proprietary database software offerings. There's simply too much attention being focused on MySQL now for Oracle to try to kill it off.

In any case, long before the deal went through, Widenius had developed his own open-source fork to MySQL, MariaDB. So regardless of what Oracle ends up doing with MySQL proper, the MySQL database code DNA will continue on.

OpenOffice appears to be the safest of the major Sun open-source projects. Oracle has no competing products to OpenOffice in its existing software lineup and the company has said that it will continue to support OpenOffice. The real questions here are in the details. We know that Oracle plans to offer a SaaS (software as a service) version of OpenOffice on the cloud, but we have no real clue on when we'll see it or how they'll do it. In the meantime, a new version of OpenOffice, version 3.2, is now available for download.

OpenSolaris, on the other hand, has the darkest future. While Oracle made a point of saying that Solaris would continue to be supported, Oracle has barely said a word about OpenSolaris.

The only things I can find is a promise to support OpenSolaris user groups and a generic note to the same effect sent to OpenSolaris user group leaders. At the same time, though, pleas from top OpenSolaris supporter Ben Rockwood for a road-map for both OpenSolaris customers and community seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

It doesn't help the OpenSolaris cause any that Oracle uses Linux internally and, although it's not widely known outside of enterprise circles, Oracle is also a Linux distributor. Oracle makes Oracle Unbreakable Linux, a RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) clone, to its customers as a paid-support option, and to everyone as an unsupported Linux distribution.

I strongly suspect that while Solaris on SPARC will continue on, OpenSolaris on x86 is going to be left to wither on the vine. What I think Oracle will end up doing, since Oracle is already an important Linux kernel contributor, is taking some OpenSolaris code and merging it into Linux.

If OpenSolaris as an independent operating system is to survive, I suspect it's only real shot is a community-based fork from the existing code. I just can't see Oracle putting resources behind OpenSolaris. Sorry, folks.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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