License change leaves Sun Solaris users at a crossroads

Oracle's decision to limit Solaris 10's free usage to 90 days could be a boon for Linux vendors

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The obvious question is why would Oracle make this change?

Oracle must have determined that a large enough number of Solaris 10 users are doing so without a service contract. These users are attractive targets to convert into paying customers. However, what percentage of these unpaid users would Oracle have the ability to upsell into if the user had not been able to use Sun Solaris 10 unsupported for more than 90 days and instead migrated to unpaid Linux?

Can Oracle convert free users to paying customers?
It's interesting to note that Red Hat just reported that one of its 18 deals worth more than $1 million in its recent fourth quarter was from an unpaid user converting to a paying customer. By limiting the use of Sun Solaris 10 to 90 days, it's hard to imagine that Oracle will build a set of customers that could later be upsold. In effect, the new license severely limits Sun Solaris 10 as a viable alternative to Linux for new customers.

But maybe this is a calculated business decision on Oracle's part. If a new customer needs the advanced capabilities of Sun Solaris, it'll pay for that capability and the associated hardware from a Unix vendor. With the recently acquired Sun as the largest Unix OS vendor, Oracle will win its share of this new business. If the new customer doesn’t need the advanced capabilities of Solaris, it's unlikely the customer would even consider anything beyond Linux on an x86 system.

Existing unpaid users of Sun Solaris 10 with an Entitlement Document could continue their usage without restriction: The license change does not appear to be retroactive. However, I'm not a lawyer, so be sure to validate your unpaid usage of Sun Solaris 10 with your legal department and/or Oracle.

On the surface, this new license has little impact on existing paying customers of Sun Solaris 10. However, in reality, limiting the number of potential users and customers in the Sun Solaris ecosystem can't be viewed as a positive outcome. With upward of $500 million in Solaris operating system revenues per year, it's difficult to argue that Sun Solaris is dead or dying. However, IDC's estimates indicate that Sun Solaris revenue has declined at about 10 percent annually from 2006 to 2008. The 2009 data, due out this summer, will likely continue this negative trend. Over the same period, Linux, and its poster child vendor, Red Hat, has grown at least 15 percent plus range annually.

With this data in hand, you might expect Oracle to encourage Sun Solaris usage; a 90-day trial hardly does that.

What do you think about the new license?

Follow me on Twitter at: SavioRodrigues.

p.s.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "License change leaves Sun Solaris users at a crossroads," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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