By the time you read this, we´ll be in 2011, and 2010 will be remembered as the year where the IT press used Oracle as its favourite punching bag. This scribbler thinks that despite anti-Oracle hysteria, there´s reasons to think that the database giant has become an Open Source powerhouse, as most -if not all- of Sun´s open source projects are alive and kicking under Oracle´s handling.
Oracle saved the Sun
Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, one of the IT industry´s most hard-working firms in the fight for open standards and against the Redmond juggernaut, the Evil Empire of Redmondia. Sun was also one of the most unrecognised firms by FOSS pundits, despite its vast contributions to the open source movement, be it in the form of developers on Sun´s payroll collaborating with FOSS projects -from Gnome to MySQL to OpenOffice.org to you-name-it, and also when taking into account the hundreds of thousands of lines of proprietary code turned to open source.
Yet, the Slashdotter crowd always had a reason to pick on Sun Micro because - oh the horror - they also wanted to make a profit with Free Software and OSS, or just because they had a crown jewel, Solaris, that wasn´t released under the GPL as the FOSS mob wished. Many in that crowd also chastised AOL for years, despite that fact that the firm supported Netscape programmers working on Mozilla.org and open web standards.
Then, after years of financial struggle, losing Scott McNealy -one of its brightest minds with clear long-term goals and an understanding of who was its real enemy (Microsoft and its Windows monoculture first, all others later) - and after re-inventing itself several times, Oracle jumped in and decided to ends Sun´s ages-old haemorrhaging balance sheet. Weeks before that, it was rumoured that Big Blue was going to buy Sun, yet the deal fell through. Looking back, this scribbler thinks that things would be much worse now had IBM ended up engulfing and devouring Sun Microsystems.
Dictionary.com defines hysteria as "an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterised by irrationality, laughter, weeping". Yes that describes what hit the news wires after the Oracle acquisition was completed.
It didn´t take long for the mainstream IT press to begin what I´d describe as a FUD campaign against everything Sun Microsystems had in its open source catalogue. Soon one began seeing curious people joining mailing lists of products formerly owned by Sun and asking "what will happen to this product? will Oracle kill it? should we move to something else?". There was no reason for that speculation, just Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.
Then came the articles from somewhat well known IT news sites telling about potential killing of products, customers in panic, and the like. No, I have no proof that there was actually an astroturfing campaign against Oracle, but it would surprise me very much if the thought didn´t cross the mind of some of its competitors, given past experiences.
Guilty before proven innocent, of FOSS "crimes" yet to materialise
It seems that for some in the FOSS camp, Oracle is "guilty until proven innocent", that the burden of proof has been reversed. To make a somewhat extreme and blunt comparison: they must prove they´re not child molesters, before any incident actually happens. "Prove me you´re not going to kill it!" claim some users - or astroturfers - of every open source product from Sun. Insane.
The only thing I´m certain of, is that the bloodbath with regards to open source products would have been orders of magnitude higher had IBM purchased Sun -as was originally negotiated-. For instance, there was little incentive for IBM to keep the NetBeans IDE alive, as the firm always favoured another open source IDE: Eclipse. Yet, Oracle has continued supporting the NetBeans project, as it suits and complements its proprietary, freeware Java IDE, and both target different kind of developer communities, and in the case of NetBeans, more languages.
FUD, Lies, and Doomsday Predictions
Here are my favourite doomsday predictions thrown at Oracle during 2010:
First failed prediction, post-acquisition of Sun: "Oracle might kill OpenOffice". Of course, it was said in subtler, more FUD-filled ways: "I have heard from so many readers that they fear what will happen to both OpenOffice and MySQL". Yeah, right
Result: Killing of OpenOffice never happened, Oracle sponsored the OpenOffice.org conference in Budapest by late 2010. Would they do that if they intended to kill the product?. Would they be so stupid? Of course they are not.
This post puts things in a good perspective, when it says "I think this announcement refutes the unfounded concerns of those who though that the buyout of Sun would mean doomsday for Java or OpenOffice. Oracle has an interest in non-Microsoft technologies being promoted. Microsoft’s biggest selling point is being able to sell corporations the entire package of software from the desktop to the data centre. Microsoft Office runs on Windows and is optimized for accessing data in SQL Server."
It concludes by saying "To the extent that Oracle can introduce technologies that make it easy to access MySQL and Oracle, that’s a plus point for Oracle. That’s why Oracle will keep OpenOffice alive.". No need to say more, other than Oracle would be foolish not to pursue a dual-strategy of having a cloud-based office, and a traditional, "fat" based office suite to serve the needs of all its customers.
Second Doomsday Prediction: "Oracle will kill MySQL!"
Once again, the mainstream IT press joins the pack of wolves....
October 2009 story in ComputerWorld: "some fear that Oracle will bury or weaken MySQL" Again, the key word is "fear". Who fear that? "Some". What names? How many? Reasons?. In reality, that never happened. Oracle has been INVESTING in MySQL, as this Reuters story reports here.
And then you see who´s one of the firms behind the criticism... Ingres.... in a story that reads "Ingres criticises Oracle investment strategy for MySQL" . Yes, you read that right: another database vendor criticising Oracle, a competitor, for "not investing enough" really makes this scribblers´ head spin... Why should Oracle do what one of its competitors say?. But the anti-Oracle hysteria doesn´t end here. Bob Evans at InformationWeek cried foul after a recent NY Times story that lashed out at Oracle citing only hearsay and rumours. Read it here.
[The above picture of Larry eating a hot dog is included in compliance with unwritten laws that say that Mr. Ellison cannot be portrayed favourably in any IT press report -F]
Oracle´s healthy Open Source Software ecosystem
To make this story short, let´s focus on Facts not "Fear" of what Oracle has said and done so far:
* Oracle has confirmed that work on the new Java 7 and Java 8 versions will be contributed back as open source, as part of the Open Source, "Libre" (GPL license) OpenJDK project
* Oracle is backing NetBeans with continued investments (despite the fact that Oracle had another, proprietary IDE, Oracle JDeveloper). NetBeans 7.0 is being worked on and the first beta has been released.
* Oracle promised it will release JavaFX 2.0 components as open source when 2.0 is completed
* Oracle is continuing the open source Glassfish J2EE server, with two new releases planned for this year.
* Despite the "Libre"Office fork and its Novell Mono-hooks, Oracle is continuing Open Office development -Release Candidate 8 of version 3.3 was released two weeks ago-. Oracle had to reiterate its continued commitment and support of OpenOffice.org every few months to the point that it´s almost funny. Here, back in January 2010, and again on October 2010.
* Despite rumours to the contrary, Oracle has continued and boosted investment in the Open Source MySQL database. Why? To target Microsoft of course!. April 2010 story from Reutes here.
* Despite rampant FUD for weeks in the Virtualbox users mailing list, Oracle is continuing product development, with version 4.0 just released.
* When Apple announced it was dropping Java support from OS X, Ellison´s firm actually welcomed Apple to join the OpenJDK open source Java project and contribute its until-then proprietary Mac OS X code to create a Mac build of OpenJDK. Everyone wins.
And what pays for all the above?. Oracle´s proprietary database products, of course the kind purchased by Fortune 500 companies. Is that a sin?. If you believe in dogmatic truths as is "ALL software should be free", then maybe, Oracle are terrible sinners to the Free Software Religion.
But then, without Oracle´s programmers those purists would have to fix bugs and code new features in MySQL, OpenOffice.org, NetBeans, Glassfish, Virtualbox, OpenJDK etc all by themselves. Guess the pace of development wouldn´t be so fast for these FOSS products then, right?.
So, yes, Oracle committed the grave sin of stop pushing OpenSolaris. Hey, something has to pay the bill for all of the FOSS projects above. I´m fine with that. Plus, for those who want free Soalris, there´s always Illumos, the open source fork based on OpenSolaris code.
After seeing all these points, aren´t you happy that Oracle is contributing time, programmers, and money to the advancement of key Free Software projects like Virtualbox, OpenJDK, MySQL, Glassfish, NetBeans, and OpenOffice.org? I do, Thank you, Larry Ellison!,
Oracle will surely make lots of money be selling support and services around these FOSS products to their Fortune 500 clientele -and benefit the Free Software community in the process- by growing the Open Source ecosystem as an alternative to Microsoft´s monoculture.
Larry Ellison has been trying to seed the market so it breaks from Microsoft´s dominance for years. And that is healthy and needed. I remember his "ThinkNIC" low-cost PC effort - preloaded with Linux - fondly. It failed, but was clearly a concept ahead of its time.
In the end, the key when it comes to deciding who helps and who hurts Open Source, is looking at the big picture, not the vitriol-filled comments, the fireworks and scare tactics of a few competitors who have been trying to destroy Java, OpenOffice.org - and even Oracle - for years.