Category Archives: sun

OpenOffice at Apache?

Today’s buzz: talk of OpenOffice being donated to the Apache Software Foundation.

Wow!  That’s a Very Big Catch, isn’t it?  Perhaps the biggest since Hadoop?  Or???

Well, maybe.  As of now it’s a long way from a done deal, and it’s by no means clear that it will happen.  To become an Apache project, OpenOffice will have to be accepted into the incubator where it will have to demonstrate suitability before it can graduate to an Apache project.  Apache media guru Sally Khudairi has written about the incubation process here in anticipation of a wave of interest.

The first question is whether OpenOffice will enter the incubator in the first place.  Before the LibreOffice split there’s little doubt it would’ve been warmly welcomed, but now there’s a questionmark over why Oracle should prefer the ASF to TDF, and whether Apache folks want to make ourselves party to a legacy of that split.  But if this reaction from the LibreOffice folks represents a consensus then I for one will be happy to accept OpenOffice.

Intellectual Property should be straightforward (because Oracle owns all the rights, inherited from Sun), so the question then becomes how the community will fare.  How much room is there for both projects to thrive?  Who will give their loyalty to ASF in preference to TDF, or equal loyalty to both?  Could separate competing projects become a Good Thing and foster innovation, or will it just add duplication and confusion to no real purpose?

There is a likely driver for an Apache version: contributors who prefer the Apache License over the GPL.  That could drive interest particularly from companies like IBM who maintain their own derivative products.  Whether that will give rise to a thriving community, and perhaps a development focus distinct from that of LibreOffice, remains to be seen: that’s part of what incubation will tell us.

Anyway, if OpenOffices enters incubation at Apache, I’d expect that to be make or break for it.  If it thrives then we could see “Apache OpenOffice” at some future date.  If not, then it pretty clearly cedes the future to LibreOffice.  If only they could find a better name …

Shane’s blog links to lots more good reading.


An entertaining talk at FOSDEM was Michael Meeks, on the fork from OpenOffice to LibreOffice[1].   At the same time as delivering the now-popular message of community and open development, he was taking some quite partisan potshots at other FOSS models that unambiguously share those very values.  Hmmm … good entertainment, but perhaps unduly provocative.  Interestingly OpenOffice and LibreOffice both had stalls at FOSDEM, separated by only one independent exhibitor! 😮

From an outsider’s viewpoint[2], there was one thing I found reassuring.  Namely, the tensions that led to the split had existed during Sun’s time, before the Oracle takeover.  Thus whatever mistakes may have happened are not new.  I like to think Oracle is building on what Sun did right and drawing a line under what was wrong.  It would’ve been sad to hear that Oracle had damaged something Sun was doing right, and Meeks’s talk reassures me that hasn’t happened in this case.

The open-source-but-owned-and-controlled development model such as (most famously) that of MySQL can work, but seems to have fallen comprehensively out of favour with FOSS communities.  It’s at its best where third-parties are minor contributors, but is likely to lead to a fork if outside developers are taking a major interest.  And it’s never good to send mixed messages to the community: they’ll remember the big claims when you back-pedal.

[1] How is anyone supposed to promote a program the pronunciation of whose very name is a stumbling-block?  Shot in the foot there, methinks.  Is that the laughter of Redmond I hear?

[2] I’m a user of OpenOffice but have never contributed to its development, nor am I familiar with its community.


On Friday, with a corvidian finality, I received my last ever paycheque from Sun.  As from today, Sun no longer exists in the UK, and its assets, including me, belong to Oracle.

Back in 2007 when Sun first approached me, I don’t think I’d have considered working for Oracle.  Their reputation didn’t seem compatible with my ideas.  So that puts me somewhere I never thought I’d be!  But when the news of the takeover broke, I reevaluated that, and decided that if they want me, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  And what I’ve seen so far is reassuring: the handling of the transition is looking good, and there’s clearly interesting work going on at Oracle.  Last but not least, it’s not going to get in the way of my open source work.

Today I have a new document from Oracle to sign.  Two actually, but one of them is fairly trivial.  The agreement to keep Oracle’s secrets and intellectual property needs a second reading, but appears similar to the one I signed for Sun, and rather less onerous than the garbage UK companies tend to inflict on you.  Assuming a second reading tomorrow leaves me happy, I shall sign and return it.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve also attended (via ‘phone and ‘net) a number of introductory presentations.  Oracle is doing a good job of selling itself : sufficient to engender my positive feelings towards them (or should I say us)?  Most noteworthy was a meeting with future colleagues at which they presented one of the main products to which I may be contributing.  I can see potential for an excellent fit with some of my interests and past work, and I look forward to the opportunity to take this forward.

On the negative side, I have today missed a chance to meet our new masters in person.  I put myself down for a presentation/meeting at 2pm today at Sun’s (as was) UK HQ, only to be told later that it was overbooked.  But I expect there will be future opportunities.

EU tilting at windmills

OK, I confess.  I didn’t expect the EU to worry about the Oracle-Sun takeover.  At least, not more than it is obliged to do by virtue of the sheer size of the companies.  Unlike the once-rumoured IBM-Sun deal, there are few areas of major overlap between Oracle and Sun, and none in which the companies are so dominant as to smell of monopoly.  The US competition authorities raised no concerns, and I’d’ve expected the EU ones to do likewise.

Well, OK, there’s Java, over which some have concerns.  And there’s the database.  It’s true: Oracle and Sun own two market-leading databases: Oracle leads in the enterprise, while Sun (MySQL) leads on the Web.  This latter is what apparently causes concern to the European Commission.

So what’s the worst that could happen?  Oracle lets MySQL wither on the vine and supports only a proprietary derivative at a high price, thereby depriving the MySQL community?  Erm, that’s exactly what caused concern amongst some when the deal was first announced!  But it’s hardly realistic: MySQL’s open-source heritage ensures it can’t be killed so long as it has a community of interested users.  Indeed, there are already MySQL forks out there, and MariaDB, Drizzle, or AN Other could stand to take the place of the original amongst the community if Oracle were to try anything too dumb.

As could PostgreSQL, or maybe some alternative disruptive technology we haven’t thought of in this context.

I have no doubt Oracle is well aware of this, and that they didn’t get to be a 100-billion-dollar company by shooting themselves quite so spectacularly in the foot.

No, the biggest risk to competition lies in the cloud of uncertainty that prevails while the deal is in limbo.  By worrying about an Oracle/Sun monopoly and delaying the deal, the EU commission could inadvertently come close to handing one to IBM.

Sun Glassfish Webstack 1.5

Sun Glassfish Web Stack 1.5 is out this week, for Solaris and Linux platforms.

This is the latest update to the webstack, and like previous versions is available both as a free download and commercially as a supported product in a choice of bundles, to meet the needs of everyone from enterprise clients, through small and medium size business and startups, to students and hobbyists.  The most striking change for most users will probably be the shiny new Enterprise Manager dashboard.

Open sourcers will note the updates to the constituent open-source components of the webstack.  In this context, and in view of my recent blog entry, I should perhaps mention that while the Apache HTTPD version bundled is 2.2.11, it does include local patches, most importantly the security fixes in this week’s 2.2.12 release from Apache.  Other components are similarly upgraded.

Sun and Oracle

A couple of weeks ago, the rumour was IBM to buy Sun.  Now it’s not IBM but Oracle, and not a rumour but a press release and conference call.

In pure business terms, it feels like a potentially better fit.  IBM and Sun are direct competitors in so many lines of business, and I’d expect competition authorities to be concerned about such areas as top-end servers and storage, where they are two players in a very small field.  Oracle and Sun have long been technology partners where the businesses complement each other, but have relatively little overlap.  Worryingly, one area where there is substantial overlap is Glassfish/Webstack vs WebLogic (née BEA).

Another question must be over corporate culture: Sun the laid-back techie hive of innovation, vs pinstriped, business-focussed Oracle.  I hope Oracle will preserve and build on Sun’s committment to open source in the projects it will inherit, but it doesn’t have IBM’s (let alone Sun’s) track-record of playing nicely with FOSS.  Oracle’s conference call was very clear about its committment to core software assets – particularly Solaris and Java – which is encouraging, though to be expected.

At this point I started writing about some of those areas I know and care about more directly than the above generalities.  But I guess I shouldn’t be jumping the gun there, so I’ll shut up.

The bottom line of the conference call makes a lot of sense: Oracle is now positioned to be a one-shop provider of all computing and consulting needs to the enterprise.  There’s only one competitor who can make a comparable claim – and that’s IBM.

Sun and IBM

No, I’m not going to talk about recent reports. Even if I knew something you didn’t (which I don’t), I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable writing it here.

But I just have to point my readers to a lovely comparison by Jeff Kesselman (spotted via Sam Ruby’s blog). Written four years ago, so no risk of being influenced by current events, yet those who are watching may find it strangely familiar! Jeff has experience of both companies, and his preference seems to show through his slightly-tongue-in-cheek piece.

Oh, maybe there is a serious comparison that deserves mention at this point. Someone remind me: when was it IBM made one of the biggest stonking losses in corporate history, before reinventing itself as primarily a services company? It feels as if Sun might be at a comparable, though less extreme, point in its life.

Glassfish Portfolio

As of today, we (Sun Glassfish Webstack, hitherto just WebStack) are part of the Sun Glassfish Portfolio. That’s a lot of application server and infrastructure under one roof!

From a techie point of view, it’s not clear that it’ll make much difference. We’re still different products and different teams, with not too much overlap. But for customers, it’s a one-stop shop for a wide range of needs, and pretty comprehensive in the core area of web applications. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get confusing to the customer who wants [S|L]AMP and no Java, or vice versa!

I guess it also demonstrates a true heavyweight presence in this space (as if that were needed)! Sun is of course the provider for Glassfish and MySQL (among other things) by virtue of owning them – albeit by acquisition in the latter case. Beyond that, Sun has built a formidable base of expertise in other opensource products in the web application space by hiring key developers in the main projects (yours truly included), so we are in a position to offer both breadth and depth of support to users.

Sun Webserver open sourced!

A little under six months from the original announcement, Sun has released its core Sun Java System Web Server source code under a BSD license.  You can read about it and download it here.  This brings us exciting new opportunities for cross-fertilisation with Apache and other web servers[1], and I intend now to spend some time in Sun’s newly-Free code.

The webserver is of course not Sun’s only product in the field.  Nor even the main one: Sun’s webstack supports Apache and other open source servers.  In the marketplace as a whole, it is by most measures an also-ran, alongside everything else other than Apache and Microsoft.  Nevertheless, it is reported to be quite substantially overrepresented at the top-end of the market, with a significant market share amongst Fortune 500 company sites.  I can’t quote statistics on the subject, but this makes sense based on high performance and the backing of a strong top-end company.

I’m not sure if it’s decent to say this from my position (working for Sun, though not on this particular software), but thanks Sun for another great contribution to the world!

[1] An example is Basant Kukreja’s sed filter module, which is already in Apache’s trunk.

Open Sourcing Sun’s Web stuff

When Sun opened Solaris, they opened a new era of cross-fertilisation with other projects.  Sun, like other vendors, benefits from the work of a much wider community.  The community, including the major projects like the Linux and BSD kernels, benefit from Sun goodies such as DTrace and ZFS.

Sun’s announcement this week of opening the Web server and proxy brings such opportunities for cross-fertilisation to the Web platform.  I haven’t worked on Sun’s server myself (I’ve dabbled with its API, but not the innards), but my colleagues include some who work on both Sun’s and Apache technologies.  Now there’s no longer a risk of Intellectual Property issues getting in the way of such folks participating fully in multiple communities.  Or of anyone else with an interest in re-using Sun’s work.

This is for Sun, in quite a strong sense, a return to its roots: back in the 1980s it was the major platform for innovation, including much of the foundations of today’s networking.  It was Solaris 2 in the early 1990s that saw Sun (metaphorically) don a business suit, unbundle the C compiler, and alienate the geeks, and I suspect it’s no coincidence that in the early 1990s a bunch of geeks formed a community around the infant Linux alternative!  Now we’re happily back to the heart of geekdom!