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From Java to SPARC, critical Sun technologies have lived on, been cut loose, or lost their luster in the four years since the Oracle acquisition
Four-year report card: How Oracle has fared with Sun technologies
Four years ago this month, Oracle completed its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems, a once-high-flying vendor of Unix software and hardware and inventor of venerated technologies like Java.
When the acquisition was announced in April 2009, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had great expectations. “The acquisition of Sun transforms the IT industry, combining best-in-class enterprise software and mission-critical computing systems,” he said in a statement. But Oracle has had mixed results with former Sun technologies, bolstering some and spinning off others.
Here’s a rundown of how Oracle has fared with several key technologies it acquired via Sun, featuring commentary from Java founder and former Sun official James Gosling and key industry analysts.
Java remains a mainstay in business application development; it is also leveraged in Google Android applications via the Dalvik VM. Oracle has been unsuccessful in suing Google over Android but has moved forward with developing multiple editions of Java. Oracle also had to deal with security setbacks affecting client-side Java.
Gosling gives Oracle a B+ grade for its handling of Java: “They've really done surprisingly well with Java except for the ‘growing pains’ in figuring out how to deal with security issues.”
Analyst Michael Azoff, of Ovum, sees Java as being a healthy state of development despite client-side issues. “Oracle is investing in Java, and the upcoming generation releases (SE 8 and 9) involve significant re-architecting to evolve the language and platform.”
After trying unsuccessfully to sell a commercial version of the OpenOffice productivity suite, aka Oracle Open Office, the code base for OpenOffice.org was submitted to Apache Software Foundation in 2011.
Apache announced on New Year’s Day 2013 that Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1 was available in eight new languages, including Swedish, Korean, and Polish. Last year, Apache began integrating improvements from Lotus Symphony, a previous fork also donated to Apache.
“The project lives on at the ASF, but the scant chatter I've gotten from people is that the industry has moved from the concept of OpenOffice, looking more hopefully at cloud-based Office suites,” analyst Michael Cote, of 451 Research, says.
Still, Apache OpenOffice was downloaded 75 million times between May 2012 and October 2013, according to Apache.
When Oracle acquired Sun, it already had its own JDeveloper IDE for Java and was a proponent of the Eclipse Java IDE, a rival to NetBeans. But NetBeans has remained in the Oracle stable of technologies.
NetBeans, Gosling says, is doing well with developers but he questions Oracle’s understanding of the “jewel” it has with the IDE: “Tools are a fantastic way to influence the developer community and the ‘mother ship’ [of Oracle] doesn't seem to get this.”
Azoff emphasizes Oracle’s continued support: “NetBeans' role is as the prime IDE channel for latest Java releases and therefore continues to be actively supported by Oracle and is used within the Java community, despite the greater popularity of Eclipse.”
Once billed as a possible threat to Oracle’s database server dominance, the open source MySQL database became Oracle property just two years after Sun acquired MySQL for $1 billion in 2008.
Oracle now bills MySQL as a solution for e-commerce, OLTP, and embedded database applications, and it offers multiple versions, including enterprise and cluster configurations. Gosling, however, sees a dismal future for the database. MySQL, Gosling says, “was not killed off, but [is] vanishing fast from the general discourse.” It is being replaced by forks and NoSQL, he says.
Serving as a reference implementation of enterprise Java, this open source application server joined a roster of Oracle products that already included the former BEA WebLogic Server Java application server. But Oracle recently announced intentions to halt commercial support for new versions of GlassFish; customers who want support will have to license the expensive, proprietary WebLogic Server, and there will be no 4.x commercial version of GlassFish Server. “[GlassFish has] moved forward but it isn’t getting promoted much,” Gosling says.
Acrimony between proponents of the Hudson continuous integration system and Oracle led to a fork of Hudson, dubbed Jenkins, which lives on as an open source project with a long list of users, including Dell, CloudBees, and Yahoo.
Oracle threw in the towel on Hudson, handing it off to the Eclipse Foundation in 2011. It remains an active project at Eclipse, with Version 3.1 being released last fall. But Hudson founder Kohsuke Kawaguchi, who has moved to Jenkins, vouches for the strength of Jenkins instead: “Jenkins is doing quite strongly. Its adoption has grown 45 percent just the last year alone, whereas I don't see any real activities in the Hudson project anymore. So I consider that chapter behind us.”
Like other Unix variants, Solaris has seen competitive pressure from Linux. IDC analyst Al Gillen sees a mixed bag for Solaris: “Oracle has invested heavily in updating and refreshing the Solaris operating system. However, this was in conjunction with the company's refined focus on the high end of the Unix market opportunity.”
Solaris offers improved functionality and better lifecycle management, Gillen says. “However, the company's retreat from the low-end of the Unix market has reduced the overall opportunity for Solaris,” he adds.
Gosling sees Solaris as “totally dead” and says he converted his Solaris systems to Linux. “The license fees for Solaris are so high that it's crazy to think of trying to use it and the hardware offerings from Oracle make no sense.”
Sun’s RISC architecture, like other CPU platforms, has taken a back seat to Intel’s pervasive x86 CPU technology.
“SPARC suffered the fate of all architectures other than the X86,” says analyst Peter Christy of 451 Research. “As all systems moved to VLSI CPUs, the brutal economics of semiconductor prevailed -- [it] costs everyone about the same to design a CPU at any point in time, and then you have to amortize that design cost over production, so he with the highest volume wins.”
But SPARC lives on in multiple systems, including SPARC T4-1 servers for Web infrastructure and application development. Oracle says the SPARC T4 processor delivers a 5X increase in single-threaded performance over previous generations.