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Oracle can be the best place to learn the enterprise software market

If you are lucky, and curious enough, Oracle can be the best place to learn the enterprise software market. I have worked at Oracle for about seven years and, in my entire career, it is where I have learned the most about enterprise software. When Oracle announced it was buying Sun, I was actually not that surprised, and I thought it was to be expected after the IBM escape. Oracle is in a self-fulfilling prophecy to consolidate the enterprise software market and, after IBM turned down what could have been a great match for open source and Java, Oracle had to jump in. Larry Ellison and Safra Catz are great market strategists, and Sun should have been on their radar for a long time. Larry has also been good friends with Scott McNealy, and this topic must have come up many times over the years.

Anyway, now that this merger is almost done, the big question everybody has is what will happen with Sun software and open-source assets such as Java, MySql, and OpenOffice. There is also the burning question about Oracle’s commitment regarding Linux. Before going one-by-one, it is important to understand few things about Oracle:

  1. Oracle does not like GPL. They have been forced to coexist for their Linux strategy against Microsoft, but, they are isolating it as much as possible.
  2. Oracle does not care about desktop computing. While Oracle has some desktop applications (e.g., JDeveloper and Beehive Clients), it tends to mostly focus application model research and development on Web frameworks such as JSF and Fusion Middleware. In other word, no AIR will be coming out of Oracle anytime soon.
  3. Oracle has a very talented Linux group, headed by Wim Coekaerts, which has made significant Linux (GPL) contributions. However, overall, Oracle is still far behind IBM in terms of Open Source investment. IBM is the organization that gets and does open source better than anyone else.
  4. Oracle masters, better than anybody else, the art of selling software to enterprises. It has the most aggressive enterprise sales force on the market, and they know all the tips and tricks to maximize any single software sell.

So, now the burning questions are what Oracle will do with Java, MySql, and OpenOffice, and will it stay committed to Linux?

1) Oracle on Java

Java is probably the biggest topic, at least for developers.

On the language side, I think it will be business as usual. Sun Java linguists will probably stay at Oracle, and Oracle will probably keep them, as they are the core of one of the biggest part of their acquisition. Many developers are already considering the Java language to be in maintenance mode after JCP‘s repeated failures to adopt Java popular requirements such as closures. Therefore, the change in ownership will probably have little effect on the already-not-popular Java language evolutions.

Oracle might have a bigger effect on the server side of Java. EJB3.0/ORM and Portal specs and implementations should get a boost and, hopefully, JSF will get a re-lifting. However, changes in velocity will be hampered by the fact that everything will still have to go through the same JCP process.

Now, the client side is going to be the entertaining one. I think that first, Oracle will get confused and overwhelmed by JavaFX (who has not?). Then, it will be interesting to see what the Oracle people will do about it. My guess is they will let it be for a while (out of confusion), and then quietly deprecate JavaFX as they realize it is the failed compiled client/server model all over again with some flying pixels, a cute, but weird, Java-like-but-not-Java language, with very low client penetration.

On the tool side, the NetBeans vs. JDeveloper fight is going also to be fun to watch. Oracle has been very emotionally tight with its JDeveloper to the point of prioritizing it over BEA Eclipse-based IDE (even after standardizing on WebLogic middleware). The good news is that both NetBeans and JDeveloper are Swing-based, so a happy marriage is not out of the question (except if JavaFx wants to cause trouble).

Personally, I am a little concerned about Tomcat. Tomcat has become a very robust and reliable Servlet container and, with frameworks like Spring and Hibernate, can become the backbone for highly scalable SaaS enterprise applications. The good part is that Tomcat is governed by Apache, which hopefully will maintain a good continuation of the project. But again, if Oracle decides to stop continuing Sun’s investment in Tomcat, the product will untimely surfer.

2) Oracle on MySQL

Let’s get to business. MySQL acquisition is very interesting. It is important to note that Oracle has always tried to understand what it could do with MySQL, without giving it too much attention. This initiative became concrete in 2005, when they bought the innoDB. MySQL’s CEO, Marten Mikos, has also been relatively friendly with Oracle over the years. I actually think he would have rather been bought by Oracle than by Sun. But although this was a topic of discussions, it has never happened, because, as Larry likes to put it:

“I prefer to spend $1 billion dollars and be right than $100 million and be wrong.”

Well, this is Larry’s business genius. He just spent $6 billion and he is probably right.

So, what Oracle will do with MySQL? The new MySql 5.4 has some features that could be considered quite competitive with the Oracle database. And now that MySql has the Oracle brand on it, Oracle will have to be even more careful about it.

My bet is that Oracle will keep the MySQL 5.4 Community going and slow down the development of 6.0 (in very subtle ways). Where Oracle might become aggressive is in regard to the MySQL Enterprise and Cluster editions. While an internal competition is always better than an external one, Oracle is going to want to control it. It has two options for doing this. The first is by price, basically aligning the MySQL Enterprise and Clusters editions to Oracle DB pricing (probably as an on-ramp). The second is by product, by slowing down MySQL Enterprise product innovation and investment. My guess is that it will be the first one, which might result in a reduction of resources on MySQL community editions as well.

One thing I think won’t happen (at least for the next 5 to 10 years) is a merger between MySQL and Oracle DB. First, it would be a mistake from a business standpoint, as MySQL gives a great new channel to Oracle and, second, Oracle does not want to risk contaminating its crown-jewels database source code with the viral MySQL GPL one.

3) Oracle on OpenOffice

This is probably the sad one. I am a big fan of OpenOffice, and I am not sure of its viability inside Oracle. As mentioned above, Oracle does not really care about desktop computing. While there might be some interesting fit with some Oracle products (e.g., Oracle Beehive), an investment in OpenOffice would require an equal (if not greater) investment in Microsoft Office integration, which Oracle has never done. I am not sure the OpenOffice asset acquisition will trigger a change of heart. I think that in a year or two a spinoff will be inevitable.

4) Linux (vs. OpenSolaris)

Last, but not least, Oracle and Linux. Will this acquisition tamper with Oracle’s commitment to Linux? As far as technical contributions, I do not think it will change much. I think the Oracle Linux group will stay committed and funded to continue the Linux initiatives.

However, on a macro level, we might see some change. I think the real question is, “Will Oracle continue [some of] Sun’s hardware business?” If, yes, then, Oracle will have to push OpenSolaris to the market and that might take some juice out of their Linux marketing initiative. Otherwise, if Larry’s last commitment to Solaris and Sun’s hardware was just a gimmick for Wall Street (or a last favor to Scott McNealy), then, in couple of years, Oracle might be back, full speed, on Linux by acquiring a Novell or Redhat, for example.

So, here is it, my quick take on Oracle acquisitions and some predictions for the future. I really have the greatest respect for the Oracle executive team, Larry, Safra, and many others. I think they are great market strategists, and they are continuously shaping the enterprise software market. Very fun to watch!

Now, the next question is: What will IBM do about it? Buy SAP?

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More Stories By Jeremy Chone

Jeremy Chone is chief technology officer (CTO) and vice president of development and operations at iJuris, an innovative startup offering a rich Web application for lawyer collaboration and document assembly. In his role as CTO and vice president of development and operations, Jeremy is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategic direction for the iJuris service and technology as well as managing the service architecture, development, and operations.

Chone has more than 10 years of technical and business experience in major software companies such as Netscape, Oracle and Adobe where he has successfully aligned technology visions with business opportunities that deliver tangible results. In addition to a combination of technical and business acumen, Jeremy also possesses an in-depth knowledge of Rich Internet Application technologies, as well as holding many patents in the mobile and enterprise collaboration areas.

See Jeremy Chone's full biography