As it comes closer to becoming reality, Oracle's purchase of Sun makes more sense, for the simple reason that there is plenty of good technology in Sun like Java that Oracle can put to good use.
But what is Oracle going to do with its newly acquired OSes? There's Solaris, or course, Sun's well respected mixed-source UNIX, and then there's OpenSolaris, the (mainly) open source OS project sponsored by Sun and distributed under its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL.) Just this month Sun released version 2009.06 of OpenSolaris, which includes a number of new features including new networking technology and support for SPARC processors.
What's interesting is that previous versions of OpenSolaris had been aimed mainly at developers or administrators interested in testing new features before they are integrated into Solaris itself. But now Sun is aiming higher with OpenSolaris. "Initially, OpenSolaris had a developer- and desktop-centric flavor, but in this release we've moved from just desktop and developer to a datacenter-capable mission-critical operating system," Sun's Dan Roberts told Internetnews.com last week. Sun is now offering three levels of support for OpenSolaris, and the current version will be supported for five years, the company said.
Having a development platform and a commercial product is in itself not unusual: In the Red Hat world there's the commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the unsupported, community developed Fedora, while Novell offers SuSe Linux Enterprise Edition as well as providing support for the OpenSUSE development project.
But these are commercially driven open source OS companies: RHEL and SLES are key parts of Red Hat's and Novell's businesses, respectively. Oracle isn't and will not be a company driven solely by the need to make money from operating systems, so why should it follow the Red Hat/Novell model of using an open source project to feed in to its enterprise OS?
What Oracle could end up doing is turning Solaris into an OS optimized for running Oracle implementations on Oracle-optimized Sun hardware. Oracle is successful at overcharging for everything, as a colleague recently reminded me, so why not make money from a souped-up Oracle OS?
What would that mean for OpenSolaris? Would it continue to be a development platform, for this Oracle-optimized, Sun hardware optimized Solaris? Or would it become a fully open source OS sponsored and supported by Oracle to run on cheap x86-based hardware? And what, if anything, would that mean for Oracle Enterprise Linux and its Unbreakable Linux support program?
Once Oracle takes charge at Sun it's easy to imagine that it won't be too long before someone decides that some sort of OS strategy needed. The tricky bit may be figuring out where OpenSolaris fits into all that.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.