Oracle acquires Sun – what’s at stake for Java?

Logo Sun/OracleThe announced acquisition of Sun by Oracle leaves us Java developpers wondering about the future of this platform.

Indeed, Oracle has always been supportive of Java, and an Oracle backend is definitely a natural piece in a JEE architecture, but there will be consequences for the Java world.

To start with, there are the databases: Oracle of course, MySQL that was acquired not long ago, and now PostgreSQL. MySQL has a strong installed user base with very specific needs, and those will not switch to Oracle, even if a lite express web edition was made for them. So maybe Oracle will drop PostgreSQL along the way? I know PostgreSQL is a steady database and has fervent supporters, but let’s face it, it’s marginal. But being open source, it will survive in some way of course.

Then, Oracle now has no less than three application servers: its own OAS, WebLogic which came with the acquisition of BEA, and now GlassFish. Eventually not all of them will survive, but Glassfish has a good chance of being a survivor, first because it’s open source, second because it’s a reference implementation. Glassfish could be an efficient weapon against JBoss if it continues to evolve at the current rate, and Oracle might want to use it.

Oracle also inherited NetBeans, a very serious competitor for Eclipse; but Oracle is involved in Eclipse as a member of the Eclipse foundation, not to mention that Oracle also has its own Java IDE: JDeveloper, itself a fork of JBuilder… I believe NetBeans has a lot more potential than JDeveloper, so I think it’s not unlikely that JDeveloper will be gradually abandoned for a “custom” version of NetBeans, while the base NetBeans remains open source.

So is this acquisition good for Java? Better than the aborted IBM deal? Hard to say. One thing is that their respective portfolios complement each other better: Oracle doesn’t build hardware, IBM does, Oracle doesn’t make OSes, IBM does. By obtaining those two components from Sun, Oracle now has a pretty nice stack: Sun server, Solaris OS, Oracle DB, JEE application server. On the other hand, IBM did a lot more for the Java ecosystem than Oracle, being a huge contributor to Eclipse and Java libraries through its AlphaWorks division.

It seems that the Java part of Sun interested Oracle mostly because it powers its Fusion middleware offering, which makes it quite essential to the eyes of Larry Ellison, who called it “the single most important software asset we have ever acquired”. How true is this? Will Oracle really increase the investment in Java? I might be wrong, but I’ve always seen Oracle as a data-oriented company, and I’m afraid there is a so-called impedence mismatch between Sun and Oracle, just like there is between RDBMS and OO programming. But I hope it’s just me.

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