After OpenOffice and Hudson, will Oracle stick with open source?

NetBeans, MySQL, and GlassFish are all likely to remain in Oracle's software portfolio as they have profit potential

In recent weeks, Oracle has taken two premier open source technologies gained through the company's 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems -- the productivity suite and the Project Hudson continuous integration server -- and donated them to the Apache Software Foundation and Eclipse Foundation, respectively.

As the world's second-largest commercial software vendor (behind Microsoft), Oracle was not surprisingly eager to find another home for some of these open source technologies, which by definition lack the potential to bring in the boatloads of licensing revenue Oracle seeks.

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Oracle still has other prominent open source properties from Sun, including the NetBeans IDE and MySQL database. Could these technologies meet the same fate as and Hudson? Probably not, analysts contend.

Why and Hudson were disposable

The reason: Oracle had specific reasons for turning over and Hudson to others, and those reasons aren't about getting rid of open source technology per se, analysts tell InfoWorld. Both OpenOffice and Hudson had forked, with spinning out LibreOffice and Hudson splintering off into Jenkins. "The cases are more representative of Oracle's struggles to find its footing in the open source world than portfolio pruning," says Forrester Research analyst John Rymer. "In each case, project leaders threatened to start competing projects rather than work under Oracle's leadership. Oracle struggles with this kind of open source community turmoil and conflict."

Getting rid of the projects was one way to end that struggle in the cases, suggests IDC analyst Al Hilwa: "The Hudson case is unique because a conflict ensued and I think Oracle did its best to repair the damage. The Eclipse approach taken is a great way out of that issue and should be seen as an invitation to the Jenkins team to fold the code back in. ... The OpenOffice situation was clearly a form of conflict as well, and they essentially dealt with it in a similar way [as Hudson] just recently. You could say that they have learned a few new things on how to better handle open source projects."

With Hudson and OpenOffice, Oracle concluded there was no meaningful revenue at risk in donating the projects but that both efforts still had indirect value, Rymer says. By pushing them off to Eclipse and Apache, Oracle could continue to influence them, he asserts, without having to take on the cultural struggles: "Oracle sees Eclipse, Apache, and IBM as having a good feel for open source politics and communications."

Oracle's open source plans focus on those it thinks can make money

Whereas Sun used open source licensing to win community goodwill and encourage hardware sales, Oracle's business plan has been to figure out better ways to make money directly from the software, Hilwa says: "Oracle is being much more decisive about its open source projects than Sun ever was."

In fact, for the most part, Oracle has kept key open source projects like NetBeans, MySQL, and GlassFish -- in some cases, contrary to expectations. "We are surprised Oracle is hanging on to NetBeans," Rymer says, "but it is apparently going to try to make NetBeans work as a mobile development environment of some sort. This doesn't make much sense to us, but it is what it is." In fact, Oracle maintains NetBeans despite having backed its own JDeveloper IDE and Eclipse IDE.

MySQL, meanwhile, hangs on as a potential competitor to Microsoft's SQL Server database, Rymer says -- even though some MySQL developers have split off to pursue MariaDB.

GlassFish is also worthwhile for Oracle to keep, Hilwa contends: "GlassFish has a relatively strong community around it and tends to be the quickest way to support the latest and newest Java standards. It is considered a reference implementation for new Java capabilities and is also relatively lightweight, easy to install, load, and use."

Another open source effort that Oracle ended -- the OpenSolaris distribution of the Solaris OS -- showcases Oracle's strategy: It cut the open source version to focus on the commercial variant.

Oracle declined comment on its open source plans.

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