So, the news is out that Sun are being bought by Oracle. Personally, I didn’t see that coming – didn’t see Oracle wanting to get into the hardware business, but maybe they will literally just chop those bits out and sell them off. Or maybe they do want to get into hardware.

This has some interesting implications for free software projects, though:

  1. Java. Clearly Oracle are huge fans of Java and will want to continue the development. Will it stay entirely free software? I would imagine so – I don’t see what there is to gain by closing it up again. They pretty much have control of the development process thanks to Sun’s nature, and it’s not really like anyone is going to be forking it at this point. Probably not much danger here.
  2. Solaris. Oracle’s DB software runs best on this platform, so again it’s likely to be continued – at least, in the short term. Longer term, I don’t see Oracle wanting to commit development resources to both Solaris and Linux, and this could be the key time to start to merge the two. Not necessarily great news for Solaris fans.
  3. Erk. Traditionally, Oracle have never been slow to stick it to Microsoft, so at first glance you could see this going great guns under Oracle as Larry tries to sink another Bill battleship. However, it doesn’t really look to me like this would fit terribly well into the Oracle product line-up, and Oracle have traditionally been a bit luke-warm about OOo – for example, their stuff doesn’t really integrate with it at all, whereas it does with Office, understandably. Indeed, search their blogs for talk of OOo and you find basically nothing – and Oracle aren’t even involved in the OASIS technical committee for ODF, which seems to me to betray a complete lack of interest in this area. OOo is potentially in trouble with this news.
  4. VirtualBox. Not sure much will happen with this; I imagine it would continue but I don’t see Oracle being particularly interested in driving it hard. Probably it would merge with Oracle VM, although the latter is Xen-based. Both could continue with the idea of aligning them in the future, which would probably happen naturally.
  5. MySQL. Erk again. Oracle already own the developers of InnoDB, and in fact the BDB developers too, but don’t expect to see MySQL being in a position to compete with Oracle’s database any time soon now. However, much of the interesting MySQL development now appears to be taking place in the community, so maybe this doesn’t make much difference.

Compared to IBM, on the face of it Oracle doesn’t offer a substantively different story with regards free software. They contribute when and where it makes sense for them, and not in ways which could possibly compete with their software. However, their software is also essentially all extremely high-end enterprise process stuff, which is generally relatively bespoke and requires armies of trained monkeys consultants to install. In that scenario, free software offers a much lower threat and doesn’t even come close to touching many of their markets – so it can perhaps feel a little more relaxed about its contributions. The Oracle OSS page is relatively happy reading,

There is an interesting question outstanding too, I feel: never mind Sun’s wares, what’s going to happen to Unbreakable Linux? It doesn’t make much sense to continue with both that and Solaris long term, which is why I think this actually sounds the death knell for Solaris,

All in all, probably a slightly more favourable situation than under IBM, but the big worry is what happens to It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see StarOffice spun out as a separate company again, but maybe I’m wrong about how brave Oracle might be and how much Larry really loves sticking it to Microsoft.