End of the Software Wars? Or Just the Opening Salvo of a New Front?

If Oracle buys place in the Sun, is Microsoft model doomed?

For the past few weeks, I've been publishing an ongoing interview with Keith Curtis, an ex-Microsoft employee who walked away from a several-year gig at the software giant with a surprising conclusion: Microsoft's proprietary software development model is doomed, he says, and destined to be replaced by community-created open software.

Aside from the message itself, Curtis's timing is interesting because it comes amidst a growing move towards cloud computing solutions--software services that live in the Internet cloud. Curtis doesn't dismiss cloud computing, but he doesn't think that's the future either.

You can read more about his views on the future of computing at the URL below (part three of the interview should be available sometime this week as well), but in speaking with Curtis, I've come to wonder anew about some of the trends and events that are impacting the direction our industry is taking. And none is bigger than the announcement this week that Oracle is buying ailing UNIX server vendor Sun Microsystems.

The transaction itself is straightforward. Oracle will pay $9.50 a share for Sun, which amounts to about $7 billion, or a hair more than a similar offer for Sun that IBM walked away from about a week ago.

Not so straightforward is the rationale for the purchase. Oracle says that it will combine its database and other enterprise-software solutions with Sun's "mission-critical computing systems"--that is, its Solaris-based servers--to create aggressively integrated solutions. This will result in lower costs for customers, Oracle says, while improving "system performance, reliability and security." Sounds very Microsoftian.

I also don't believe that has anything to do with the transaction. Sure, many of Oracle's biggest customers are still running on Sun silicon, but the trends there are obvious and heading downward fast. And while Solaris is at least respected industry-wide, let's face it, the UNIX ship has sailed and Linux is the future of that market. Sun has paid a lot of lip service to Linux, but it's worked harder to get Solaris caught up with Linux than it has pushing any real interoperability or up-sell opportunities. Oracle, conspicuously has pledged to keep supporting Linux fully.

What Sun does have, however, is Java and MySQL. Java is the middleware glue that makes Oracle's new enterprise platform work, by combining Solaris or Linux with Sun hardware (Sparc or, increasingly, Intel-based hardware) and Oracle's enterprise solutions. And MySQL? The open-source database was a competitor and threat. Now it’s inhouse, and Oracle can focus on Microsoft SQL Server.

Oracle has always been a serious Microsoft competitor in the server space, but with the Sun acquisition, the company has become a goliath that competes with Microsoft at virtually every level. And it’s certainly put UNIX vendors like IBM and HP on notice as well. What's interesting is that even in a scenario where cloud computing does become the mainstream computing model, Oracle is now poised to compete effectively in that Software-as-a-Service model as well. Sun was right when it said that the network was the computer: It was just ahead of the curve.

To read my interview with Keith Curtis, see Supersite for Windows, “After the Software Wars: An Interview with Keith Curtis.”

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