A year later: Has Oracle ruined or saved Sun?

The company irks open source advocates but is steadfast in upgrading Sun-derived technologies

In its first year in charge of the former Sun Microsystems technologies, Oracle stepped on plenty of toes, as the company dueled with both the open source community and Google. But Oracle also has released a plethora of products and advanced numerous projects derived from the Sun acquisition, ranging from Java and NetBeans IDE upgrades to StorageTek storage units, the Solaris OS, and Sparc hardware. Has Oracle ruined Sun or saved it?

Oracle formally took over Sun in late January 2010. Since then, the company has had to pursue a goal that had escaped Sun in the later years of Sun's existence: profitability. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison in September 2009 said Sun was losing $100 million a month while waiting for the $7.4 billion Sun acquisition to be completed. Ellison since then has criticized Sun management for bad business practices and noted Sun did not make a lot of money from Java, whereas Oracle did.

[ Sun had boasted a veritable all-star team of technologists, such as XML co-founder Tim Bray and Java founder James Gosling. Learn why many jumped ship after Oracle bought Sun. | Keep up on the latest Java news and insights with the JavaWorld Enterprise Java newsletter. ]

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So it shoud be no surprise that Oracle in the past year has pursued whatever opportunities it can find to make money when Sun did not. This push for profits has forced Sun's engineering-driven culture to take a backseat to the bottom line. Oracle has not been shy about asserting its control over the myriad Sun technologies, even if that has meant upsetting the people who started them.

Indeed, if the formerly high-flying Sun had been profitable, the company likely would still be here today. Instead, signs of Sun's fall are visible in the defunct company's Silicon Valley home. Facebook, for example, is moving into a former Sun research park near the southern end of the San Francisco Bay that had been a jewel in Sun's crown.

Oracle has made some common-sense moves with Sun's technology, such as pairing Sun hardware with Oracle middleware in the Exalogic Elastic Cloud system. Oracle, however, has taken a public relations beating in the open source realm, where projects such as the Hudson continuous integration server and Java itself have been the subjects of controversy.

But a review of Oracle's moves during the past year reveals advances for former Sun product lines, soothing the concerns of IT pros who had committed to Sun's technology. (A notable exception has been the Sun Cloud, the cloud computing platform that never got off the ground after Oracle took charge.)

Oracle did not comment for this article, but even an official at the Apache Software Foundation, which has sparred with Oracle over Java licensing terms and control of the platform, gave Oracle a qualified nod. "By every measure, I think Oracle is a very successful technology business, so as to how Oracle as a business will do with Sun technology, I think they're going to do great," says Geir Magnusson, Apache's treasurer and co-founder of the disputed Apache Harmony project. "The problems have surfaced over the last 12 to 18 months have been sort of all around open source community."

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