Monday, June 28, 2010

Has Oracle been a disaster for Sun's open source?



As others have noted, this is a good demonstration of the fact that open source projects are effectively "immortal": provided there is sufficient interest among users, they can always be forked. It should also serve as a reminder to Oracle that they are the guardians of the open source projects formerly managed by Sun, not the owners (well, they own the copyright, but that's not quite the same.) If it fails to move the projects forward in the way that many users would like, it may well be faced with more forks.


The problem is that Oracle is naturally trying to optimise its acquisition of Sun for its own shareholders, but seems to have forgotten that there are other stakeholders too: the larger open source communities that have formed around the code. That may make sense in the short term, but is undoubtedly fatal in the long term: free software cannot continue to grow and thrive without an engaged community.




This is a really insightful analysis by Glyn Moody of what the Oracle acquisition of Sun may mean for important open source technologies big and small, from things like OpenSSO and OpenSolaris to OpenOffice.org, MySQL, and even Java.


The mention of the "immortality" of free software and open source projects is really key in my mind. A lot of people wondered about the future of MySQL when Sun bought it, and many are outright panicked now that MySQL is in the hands of Oracle.


But that's what's so great about free software: none of these things are truly in Oracle's control. They belong to the communities around them. So ultimately it wouldn't be wise for Oracle to piss off the communities that made these projects what they are.


That doesn't mean Oracle won't do something terribly unwise but if they do, the code's out there and the free software community will ultimately do what's right and best for the project in the long run, even if that means forking.


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