I'm not afraid of the Oracle

Oracle is a huge organization, and they are immensely successful with their commercial software endeavors (probably because they’re absurdly expensive). I have to admit that like most in the open source arena, I felt a bit like Atreyu when the Sun acquisition was first mentioned. southernOracle.png

I probably should have gimped the blue to red, but you get the point.

There has been a lot of chatter about project forks and alternative open source options to the newly acquired Oracle/Sun products. Initially I was concerned, and – just like the masses – my biggest fears were Java, MySQL and OpenOffice. There is still a fair amount of FUD floating about the tubes, and I think it’s about time for it to recede. Oracle has already announced that they plan to maintain OpenOffice and MySQL community edition as the open source products that they are. There are few strings here and there, and I’m sure that Oracle will sneak a few gotchas into these products, but at a high level, these products will remain free and open source.

Plenty of commercial organizations spout empty promises, but Oracle has already shipped updates for these products (as well as VirtualBox - another important software) and clearly has an interest in maintaining them. For anyone still concerned about the future of free and open source MySQL and OpenOffice, think about how much drive there is at the moment for US federal and state organizations to consider free and open source alternatives to commercial software. Russia is officially moving to free and open source software, what office suite do you think they’ll select? LibreOffice might be a good choice. But when you start to chant about ROI and TCO, I predict that the technologically-challenged, weak-kneed bureaucrats are likely to see Oracle’s option as the better alternative. Russia made the first official ruling among the larger nations, but even in the steroidal-capitalist United States government (federal and state) there are urgings toward free and open source software to save precious funds. With all these opportunities for open source software, I estimate Oracle is now 75% closer (I have no grounds for that number, it just seems right to me) to competing with Windows in their monopoly that is Office.

Another log for the fire is academia, particularly primary/secondary schools in the US. US schools already get huge discounts and incentives to promote commercial software usage, however with dwindling funds, moving to free and open source alternatives is an easy money-saver that many are predicting.

Given this potentially gargantuan demographic of government and educational institutions who might just be in need of consistent and effective open source software, it becomes clear to me that Oracle probably never intended to do away with Sun’s open source offerings. Rather, they intelligently acquired Sun in order to leverage these free offerings as a means to move into personal computing. As the personal computing ecosystem makes a slow transition toward free and open source software, and considering the fact that Oracle recently released their own Linux distribution, I also think an Oracle Linux desktop featuring OpenOffice and VirtualBox is just beyond the horizon (I would not use it, but I might recommend something like this to a client that I wanted to be pretty self-sufficient).

Oracle may still be anti-christ of the open source world, and I certainly don’t like them. But they have great business sense, and right now, I think they know that maintaining their open source products is in their best interest. Beyond that, I think their open source offerings are creating a very productive foundation for massive growth in the coming years. This growth will not be further domination in the enterprise business world. I predict that the non-geeks out there are slowly going to come to recognize the Oracle brand, as it carefully worms its way into the PC market using its open source offerings.

And that’s it. I’m not scared of Oracle, because I respect their business sense, and I think it is abundantly clear that they stand to gain much more by maintaining these products as open source. They will continue to add ‘enterprise’ versions, and offer commercial support, but the community editions and the free open source version isn’t going anywhere. For the true Oracle-haters out there, good luck with LibreOffice, Drizzle, etc. But I would challenge you to consider how Oracle’s pushing of open source software is really bad for open source? They have been contributing to and stealing from Linux for years. While some of their techniques are mildly unethical (IMO), they are perfectly legal and make a lot of sense from a business perspective.

Oracle has its talons in open source, and I think it’s going to ride for a while. Get used to it, and stop worrying about Oracle ruining your favorite open source software. Just ignore the branding when you download, and go about your day.

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