Last year, Oracle acquired BEA Systems, the hottest company in enterprise Java…until around 2001.Today, they announced the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, the architects of the infrastructure of the dot com era. Remember the “dot in dot com”?
Both companies represent the history of enterprise Java, and are far less important to the future.
Larry Ellison states that “Java is the single most important software we've ever acquired.” Ellison is right about the importance of Java: Java is the world’s #1 programming language and the dominant choice of the enterprise. But the question is exactly what has Oracle acquired? There is no purpose to be served by Oracle trying to milk the Java language itself for profit–and, in any case, it's now open enough to make that impossible. (Open sourcing Java did turn out to matter. A lot.) And it is a long time since Sun controlled enterprise Java in a meaningful way.
While the FAQ on the deal states that “Oracle can now ensure continued innovation and investment in Java technology for the benefit of customers and the Java community,” in reality, innovation around the Java platform has long been driven by developers, through open source—not mega vendors. Community innovation has transformed productivity and propelled enterprise Java out of the stone age of Sun-architected J2EE.
Oracle’s business strategy may be smart—acquiring distressed vendors and milking their revenue stream while cutting costs is certainly helping them post good numbers. But it’s not a strategy about innovation.
Of course, this isn’t just about Java. This deal gives Oracle a shot at important elements it has lacked: a credible open source story and a cloud strategy. How Oracle deals with the former element is key. With MySQL, Oracle has the ability to prove it is serious about open source. Thus far, Oracle has neither enjoyed nor seemed to seek open source success, even as open source becomes more and more important. (Unbreakable Linux was quickly recognized by the market as a clumsy attempt to capitalize on the open source efforts of others.) Serious commitment to MySQL could change this. However, it also potentially competes with Oracle’s flagship database product. The same issue applies to GlassFish and WebLogic.
Additionally, does Oracle really want to get into the hardware business, as the FAQ implies–at time when virtualization is threatening server sales? Is Oracle committed to trying to maintain portability between application servers, now it has control of the JCP? We’ll have to wait for many months for the answers to these questions, especially as the deal won’t close until summer.
But this uncertainty doesn’t impact enterprise Java, whose future lies elsewhere. We agree with Oracle that enterprise Java has a big future. In fact, we are convinced we can help take it to the next level of productivity. But Oracle does not own that future. One of the great strengths of Java is its developer and open source community. This is something that cannot be bought in the same way as a PeopleSoft or WebLogic application server business.