What does Oracle plan for Sun's open-source projects?

I get that Oracle runs on open-source software. I know that Oracle is a major Linux supporter. But, please, please dont mistake Oracle as an open-source, open-core, or any other kind of "open" business at heart. Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO, is all about making billions of dollars. There's nothing wrong with that. That's what all businesses are about. But, to Ellison open source is just the means to that end and nothing else. If a program doesn't fit into his plan, it's not going to get supported.

So, while Oracle recently put up a page listing its native open-source projects and the ones that it inherited from Sun, don't think for a minute that all those programs are actually going to be supported. They're not.

The good people trying to keep OpenSolaris going already know that. OpenSolaris, as a standalone operating system distribution, is on its way out. I was wrong, by the way, when I said that OpenSolaris was under the GPLv3. That had been the plan, but it never happened. Instead OpenSolaris is still under the old Sun CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). 

What that means is that when I said it would be possible to fork OpenSolaris, I was right. But you'll need to master the OpenSolaris kernel, a mere few million lines of code. Good luck with that. The only top OpenSolaris kernel engineers work for Oracle and Oracle is not going to permit them to write an open-source competitor to Solaris. And more than that, there are still closed parts you'll need to replace

Oracle has decided to let OpenSolaris die by benign neglect. It's also a policy that they're using with other Sun open-source projects. I predicted that Oracle would do this after the company acquired Sun to projects like NetBeans, the IDE (integrated development environment) that competes with Oracle's own IDE of choice Eclipse. I'm now being told at OSCon in Portland, OR by people close to Sun and Oracle that that's exactly what's happening.

Oracle isn't actively killing any of these projects. Instead, they're simply no longer funding them or assigning staffers to them. So, for example, there may still be servers devoted to one project or another, but there's no longer anyone who can give any outside developers permission to commit changes to the projects hosted on those servers.

Some projects are getting support. The ones that will continue on, according to my sources, appear to be OpenOffice, MySQL, and VirtualBox. That's it. But, if you're not an Oracle programmer assigned to one of these projects you may find it very hard indeed to get involved. The code is indeed open-source, but Oracle prefers developers who work on its open-source projects to also be Oracle employees.

There's a reason why so many leading open-source lights from Sun, such as Java's creator James Gosling, XML co-inventor Tim Bray, and Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open source officer left Sun after the Oracle acquistion. They knew they had no home at Oracle. Neither do most of Sun's open-source projects now.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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