First, everybody just take a deep breath. There has been so much Twitter-panic about this acquisition, it is tough to think objectively about this merger when everyone is forced to jump to a Twitter judgement in 140 characters or less. Seriously, everyone woke up on Monday and started reacting. Here are the major assumptions everyone is making:
- Oracle is going to somehow "ruin" Java: "Oracle is to Java as the Borg is to Picard." - We'll see. I don't think it makes economic sense to upset the Java ecosystem abruptly. Java is still at the center of most server-side development, Oracle doesn't want to give the community any reason to abandon it for something else (something new).
- Oracle lacks an "open source" culture. - Oracle might come from a different culture than a company like Red Hat, but they do participate in open source. Oracle has been a member of the Eclipse foundation from the start, and they've donated projects (Apache Trinidad) to the ASF.
I'm defering judgment, and waiting to see what Oracle does with the business. The first thing we can all agree on is that Java has not been maintained by a rational business for a few years, and that it might be a refreshing change of pace to see what happens to Java in a company that has a more rational approach to business. What do I mean by that? Sun has been focused on playing catch-up for years. They've been playing catch up with Eclipse and they decided that 2007 was a great year to dive into the Rich Internet and Mobile applications arena with Apple and Adobe. Even Sun's latest announcement about Cloud computing sounded like an "also-ran". They were consistently late to the party and under tremendous financial pressure.
Take a look at JAVA's quarterly income statement, and you'll see what the problem is. They didn't have room to make the necessary investments in the platform. In contrast, ORCL seems to have a bit more room to make an investment in the platform. In other words, Oracle's making money, they had more than 10x the net income than Sun Microsystems posted last year, and they don't have as much pressure to control operating expenses. Most Sun employees feel like they've been held hostage by management for years as the company suffers through a series of layoffs driven by the need to slash operating expenses. You can't expect people to focus in an organization that has multiple restructurings every single year.
What this means is that if Oracle wanted to make an investment in the Java platform, they could. They could pay a team of top engineers good money to calmly work on Java without having to wonder about impending layoffs and perpetual restructuring. Finally. Tthe "steward" of Java isn't a company that is hemorrhaging money. Despite Oracle's reputation as a company focused on proprietary software, I take some solace in the fact that they have the resources to support the platform. (Plus, I think it is too late to "close" Java, the genie is out of the bottle, and it wouldn't make economic sense.)Pleading the Case with Oracle: FOU-less JCK
While Sun was playing catch-up and throwing non-Java related distractions like Neil Young at us. It was engaged in an endless battle over the TCK license in a long running dispute with the Apache Software Foundation. This dispute seems to be founded on the refusal to allow a BSD-licensed implementation of Java in order to protect Sun's Mobile revenue (and to make acquisition more appealing). This, to me, is the most important issue facing Java. If Sun had removed themselves as a barrier to progress, I think we'd see a much healthier platform.
In many ways the steward of Java in the absence of Sun is Google. At the last Google Campfire, I was standing around a group of Java developers many of whom left the JVM team at Sun to work for Google and all of whom are "household names" in the Java community. Google expends a great deal of effort to support the JVM/JDK, maintaining a team of engineers that work on OpenJDK. They have a vested interest in the health of the platform, and I was hoping that IBM would purchase Sun, fix the TCK license issue so that we could see companies like IBM and Google get behind a ASF-licensed distribution of Java. If this were to happen, we'd see more innovation and Java being used on more devices. (Hint: My theory is that Android is more than a mobile OS, but that's for another post.)
The big question now is what will Oracle do about the TCK license dispute. Will it get rid of the Field of Use restrictions? Or, will it carry the torch of obstruction? The jury is out, most of the Twitterati thinks that Oracle will opt to "control" Java, but Greg Stein struck a lone note of optimism.
All we can do is wait and see.How did the Sun set?
If you had said that Oracle would buy Sun within 10 years at JavaOne 2000 you would have been referred to a good psychiatrist. What happened? Sun is where it is today because it lacked focus. Sun executives felt comfortable to position themselves as competition to IBM, Apple, and Oracle. Top executives at the companies didn't identify problems with middle management (especially in Java). Sun still employs a large number of brilliant engineers, Sun's problem was never technical talent.
Oracle will likely take a step back and extract itself from some of the business that Sun had committed to. I could be wrong, but I don't think that Oracle purchased Sun because it wants to have a huge mobile presence, and I don't think it purchased Sun because it was about to game Adobe in the area of Rich Internet Applications. It purchased Sun because it will help it sell middleware and databases. We'll see what happens, but I'm not going to jump on the panic bandwagon just yet.