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Oracle Gets EC Approval to Acquire Sun January 27, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms, Strategy.

After a lengthy approval process in the US, and an even longer one in the EU, Oracle has received the regulatory approvals to acquire Sun Microsystems.  Today Larry Ellison is going to describe a change in the Oracle mission and strategy as the two companies come together.

The Sun acquisition story has been in the press for just about a year now, and I’m not going to beat that horse.  There is little doubt that Sun’s business had been on a downward trajectory since the dot-com bust, and it needed a rescue before it became irrelevant.

What I would like to do is offer is a requiem for Sun from the standpoint of the Java language and platform.  Certainly Sun, fundamentally a processor, system, and peripheral company, was in many ways a bizarre home for such a software technology.

Java didn’t thrive in such a corporate culture, although its technical advantages, along with an industry need for a viable alternative to Microsoft, led Java to a role as a leading enterprise development and application deployment platform.

Still, unlike Microsoft, Sun had no idea how to monetize Java, despite years of trying.  Early on, it justified continued investment in Java through the notion that a leading language and platform enabled the company to sell more expensive servers, but that short-changed the value of Java itself.  As its server business went south, it only demonstrated that this particular emperor had no clothes.

Java also became more complex over time.  Enterprise Java Beans is only one of the technologies that few understand well, yet is essential to using Java on a large scale.  Certainly in some sense complexity is driven by the need for applications to do more complicated things, and there is always a struggle to achieve balance between abstraction and understanding, but programming in Java all too often remains a matter of working in the ugly details.

I’ve talked to many people at Sun over the years, and I’ve always been struck by how little the corporate culture valued its software business.  The focus was always on building and selling hardware, even long after servers and storage became largely commoditized.  Finally, Sun threw Java into the open source arena, in one last desperate attempt to grow its use in order to, um, sell more servers.

Whatever you may think of Oracle, it does know how to make money, and I expect that it will find a way to make Java profitable, and in a way that doesn’t hurt its future prospects too much.  In that way, it represents hope for a long term future for Java.  However, it may be a future that many Java developers, especially those who are proponents of FOSS, will find highly objectionable.



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