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So, what if IBM really buys Sun? The community relevance in this scenario...

Posted by fabriziogiudici on March 17, 2009 at 2:26 PM PDT

Today's scoop is WSJ talking about the alleged buy of Sun by means of IBM. People are talking of it everywhere and I presume it will be the blogging boom for the quarter. Indeed, it could be just another rumor; but it could be also true. Indeed, the only sure thing is that, if it's true, we'll know the details of the deal only after it has been closed (and possibly much later). So, my first conclusion is that we know about nothing at present. In any case, I think we should think of hypotethical scenarios, just to know what to do in case of need. What is our position, as a community, in these circumstances?

Well, some people are positive about it, others are negative. The point is that IBM and Sun have got a lot of duplicates in their product stacks and in these cases it's likely that some could die in future (unless Sun is split before the buy). If you're a fan of IBM products, you're legitimately feeling optimistic. If you aren't such an IBM fan (like me), you could have reasons to be worried. BTW, probably in these circumstances people get more worried than they should (I've noted in the past that, despite our scientific-technological attitude, the blogosphere tends to get people easily panicked) - but let's just figure out a doomsday scenario. For instance, IBM shuts down NetBeans or Glassfish.

It would be really a doomsday? Granted, I hope it doesn't happen and Sun's (or the eventual buyer's) commitment and financing goes on as usual. But - hey, let's remember they are open source products and they have an excellent momentum in their related communities. In the worst case, we can fork them. This could mean more (unpaid) work for us at the beginning, but market opportunities often arise when you don't expect. This is the real open source value and one thing for which we must be thankful to Sun, whatever happens, for having open sourced such a massive amount of cool technologies.

So, no, I don't believe the doomsday is near, whatever might happen, and our beloved products are likely to stay in our future as well.


I don't blame Apple for tying OS X to Macs. Their business model would collapse otherwise. This nearly happened when the CEO pre-Jobs licensed clones. The clones were stealing business away that Apple at the time needed to survive. In this case, it's their code, and they have the right to license it as they see fit (legally, of course). To deny them this ability would be equivalent to condone a hypothetical violation of the GPL by Microsoft (not saying they do, just inventing a fictitious example). But, yeah, I agree that their miscommunication on Java 6 in Leopard, deleting of forum posts and a closed bug database are counterproductive moves. With the iPhone SDK announcements, they seem to be showing a better commitment to providing roadmaps to developers. Hopefully, this continues.

..." ON "openness"... Microsoft IS slightly better..."

Well, those "lots" seem to be just a "handful"; furthermore ZFS shouldn't be in the list, since it's just the port for Mac OS X (still not completed, BTW) that originates from Sun. Also, with the exception of WebKit, the relevance of the remaining products is very low. While it might not be that different, I have to agree that one "openness" in general (not meaning open sourcing, but openness of products) even Microsoft if slightly better on that respect. opinali listed a good deal of facts, among with the fact that their bug database is closed, which it's just absurd. Let's also remember that they are the only major player that ties a software product (Mac OS X) to specific hardware.

@opinali Apple contributes to lots of open source projects: * Darwin * WebKit * Calendar Server * ZFS * Darwin Streaming Server * launchd Granted, they aren't the open source company Sun is, but to call them the "closed/proprietary-tight-a**ed computer company" ignores Microsoft. You're just spreading FUD.

Yes, HP would have been a better solution. Dell would have been even better, since they don't make software. But they discussed the deal, and declined it. Theoretically, Apple and Sun would have been a good technical match. But Apple's attitude towards open source is even worse than IBM, not counting their intolerable habit of not disclosing details about their release plans. And they are another pretty good champion of NIH. In any case, there's no such an option from Apple.

@opinali What would Apple or HP do to Java that has you so scared? If anything, either company would keep Java at arm's length. IBM has a history of acquiring third party development shops only to either kill their products or do irreparable damage to them: Lotus Notes Sequent Computer Systems Taligent IBM will eliminate Netbeans, and with it, any real competition for Eclipse short of IntelliJ. I'd much rather Apple acquire Sun. They'd leave them alone as the new server arm of the company.

OpenJDK 7 is GPL + CPE and is perfectly suitable for the commercial environment.

> For instance, I'd much rather see them acquired by Apple I don't think Apple will do that - who should be blamed then when the MacOS JDKs are delayed?

IBMs only interest in Sun would be the removal of a competitor. Getting control of WebSphere compiler platform (oops, Java) is a bonus for them, and will mean the end of Java as a standalone product. It will henceforth be available only as a part of WebSphere, IBM doesn't believe in sharing and with their competitors relying on Java for their own appservers they're not going to retain it as an open standard.

And without major corporate funding and direction any open source version (which are useless anyway in a commercial environment for licensing reasons) is doomed.

... "the markeT believeS..."

I wish I just had a few money to invest - when I read this late morning the news, and that IBM was allegedly offering to buy at the double of yesterday's market price, it was a predictable reaction. Unfortunately, no money to risk :-( Unfortunately too, the price raise means that the marked believe the acquisition is real.

As a developer, I hope this rumor will not come true as ibm is more proprietary than open-source and for me very far from innovative compared to the open-source products from Sun. But there is a positive for now in the rumor: Sun's value has just doubled overnight in nasdaq, aligned with the "100% premium" rumored. I wish you bought some stock before this.

@opinali You're right, of course. BTW, I've recovered the link ( - it was in a previous post of mine, best strategy to remember things ;-) IBM actually was at the 2nd place, but quantitatively Sun was 3x. Normalizing to the companies sizes, the differences is huge in favour of Sun.

@wordwarrior: Are you kidding? If either Apple or HP buys Sun, I'm flipping my career towards .NET or something else the next day. IBM is still ok if they don't screw up (but thats a big "if")... perhaps IBM could keep Sun as a reasonably independent subsidiary / R&D arm, like they did very successfully with OTI many years ago (and with very good rewards). @fabriziogiudici: This ranking is not very meaningful if they just consider the raw volume of open source software contributed by a company. It's more correct to consider how much the company is strategically bound to FOSS. Sun has opened perhaps 90% of their software portfolio, they are real backers of this model... IBM, OTOH, has an Everest of proprietary software compared to (relativelly) a molehill of FOSS contributions.

I think there's an European Union study that found that Sun is the biggest FLOSS contributor ever; IBM ranked a few positions below. Yes, it's not rather possible to "remove" open sourceness from an existing product; but it is possible to stop funding and working on it, of course, and this is the fear of many. Which shouldn't be a fear, as I told in this post, etc...

> IBM doesn't have any interest in removing the open sourceness of Sun's projects. In fact, IBM has already given a lot of open source softwares First I don't know how to remove the "open sourceness" of any software that's already open-sourced. Second, I don't think IBM really give a lot to the open source community.

I on my own believe that IBM doesn't have any interest in removing the open sourceness of Sun's projects. In fact, IBM has already given a lot of open source softwares, including technical articles, and more, which would tend to think that they want also to be part of the "open" community. I don't know if the rumor is true, but if it is, I wouldn't be worried. I only wish this will bring a plus to the IT world, and maybe allow for an even increased value in the Research and Development sector on the Sun's technologies. K

I wonder if IBM is the only suitor. If Sun is going to be acquired, then I hope there's at least a bidding war. For instance, I'd much rather see them acquired by Apple or HP.

@wordwarrior: Apple is the most closed/proprietary-tight-a**ed computer company in the world. If Apple buys Sun, their first step will be to move all products back to proprietary development as much as they can (and as the copyright holder they could do a lot), we can in theory fork everything from the last open releases but that's an insane amount of code (JDK, Solaris, Glassfish, OOo etc.) especially if the community has zero support from the guys who designed and wrote 99% of it. Apple despises community involvement - it's a company that delete forum posts, sues sites that reveals upcoming products, has no public bug database and similar resources. Their new SDKs have draconian NDA's; their App Store is a dictatorship. You have to buy new versions of the MacOSX (that often are basically service packs) to get an updated JDK. Have to say more? Compared to Apple, Microsoft looks like the FSF.