Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oracle buys Sun: understanding the impact on open source

Database giant Oracle announced Monday that it will buy Sun Microsystems for $9.50 per share—roughly $7.4 billion. The two companies reached an agreement after an unsuccessful bid by IBM fell short at $9.40 per share. Oracle has significantly expanded its reach over the past decade through a series of major acquisitions which include PeopleSoft, Hyperion, Siebel, and BEA. The addition of Sun to Oracle's roster will have far-reaching implications and a profound impact on the technology industry.

One area where the effects could be strongly felt is in the open source software community. Among Sun's most prized assets are some large-scale open source software projects that could see some major changes under their new ownership.


The acquisition raises serious questions about the future of MySQL, a popular open source database system that Sun acquired last year. It's not clear if Oracle will see any incentive to continuing development of an open source alternative to its core database offerings. There are several factors, however, that would make it difficult for Oracle to kill off MySQL—and it could be profitable to continue investing in the system's advancement.

MySQL is already somewhat fragmented and there are several branches and forks that deliver enough unique value to be profitable independently. This makes it seem unlikely that any one player will be able to retain centralized control of the software or unilaterally terminate its forward progress.

Another factor is the efficacy of certain alternatives—such as PostgreSQL—which existing MySQL users could choose to adopt if MySQL ever seriously stumbled. It's clear that there is a signficant market for open source database software, and it's a niche that someone will inevitably find a way to fill. This means that Oracle would gain little from killing off MySQL.

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