Oracle Squelches Open Source Spirit

by Paul Rubens

Has Oracle replaced Microsoft as public enemy No. 1 when it comes to enterprise operating systems? Some in the OpenSolaris community believe so.

More on OpenSolaris

Microsoft used to be known as the Great Satan when it came to enterprise operating systems. Now it seems Oracle has taken over software hell. That's what Adobe executive Dave McAllister hinted at in a recent blog post on his company blog when he said "... suddenly Oracle has managed to move into the role formerly played by Microsoft. And I didn't even know that they were understudying it."

One of the beefs against Oracle is its decision to pull the rug from under the OpenSolaris project, restricting releases of OpenSolaris until after commercial releases of its Solaris server OS. This was announced and explained by the company in an email to Solaris engineers, which was subsequently reproduced on OpenSolaris engineer Steve Stallion's blog, "In this manner, new technology innovations will show up in our releases before anywhere else," the Oracle email said. "We will no longer distribute source code for the entirety of the Solaris operating system in real-time while it is developed, on nightly basis," it added.

Stallion is deeply upset by Oracle's decision to kill off the OpenSolaris operating system, and understandably so: He spent a great deal of time developing code for a community project, and all that effort -- as he apparently sees it -- has been appropriated by the greedy, all-devouring new Great Satan.

This is a terrible sendoff for countless hours of work -- for quality software which will now ship as an Oracle product that we (the original authors) can no longer obtain on an unrestricted basis. I can only maintain that the software we worked on was for the betterment of all, not for any one company's bottom line. This is truly a perversion of the open source spirit.

Stallion is certainly not the only one to feel that way, but the sad truth of the matter is that it is all too predictable: Like Microsoft, Oracle is a multibillion dollar corporate entity whose raison d'etre is to make money. And heaps of it. The "open source spirit" is something that is only of interest to Oracle to the extent that it can help the company generate greater profits. The rest of the time it may pay lip service to it, but only for marketing purposes. Microsoft and Oracle must chuckle every time an open source operating system company reports its paltry profits (or losses), knowing you don't get rich by giving software away.

Oracle has clearly decided that with 60 percent of its customer base not currently using Solaris it has a great opportunity to get even richer by getting some of them to switch (and pay) for the UNIX operating system if the company can deliver on its promise to optimize Oracle on Solaris so it works better than Oracle on anything else.

Oracle may well have benefited from the OpenSolaris project and the work of community developers like Stallion, but it seems to have decided that the benefits aren't that valuable going forward. Or it may simply think the straight-laced database customers are used to buying conventional proprietary software and would be more likely to pay for Solaris if OpenSolaris wasn't hanging around in the background tainting both operating systems with a vaguely hippy feel. Whatever the reason, Oracle believes it will make more money without OpenSolaris, so OpenSolaris must go; open source spirit be damned.

Short termist? Not in the best interests of the customer? A harsh way to treat community contributors? Most probably. Surprising? Not at all. The open source spirit may result in great software, but being a Great Satan of software results in great piles of money. And that is what Oracle -- like Microsoft -- is really about.

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.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Sep 2nd 2010
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