Oracle's open source push ruffles feathers

Australian JBoss users are bracing themselves for an Oracle raid in the wake of mounting speculation that the software giant's CEO Larry Ellison plans to include the J2EE application server provider in his ongoing, open source acquisition spree.

Speculation is rife that JBoss, which has a long list of local customers such as Queensland Transport, which oversees all the state's road and motoring matters, Centrelink and Optus, is Ellison's next target.

The rumour mill went into overdrive after Oracle announced its intention to acquire database developer Sleepycat Software, which makes the Berkeley DB family of open source developer databases, last week.

It comes four months after Oracle's purchase of Innobase, a Finnish developer of open source database transaction engine InnoDB, which is at the heart of competing database MySQL.

Sydney-based hosted project management vendor built its entire application with open source software, including JBoss for its J2EE environment. Managing director Maarten Tentij expressed resentment at the prospect of having to deal with an Oracle-owned JBoss.

"I particularly don't want anything to do with Oracle," Tentij said. "I don't know if it's [Oracle's open source interest] or something more sinister, but I'm very happy with our relationship with JBoss and the other open source apps we use."

Tentij suggested Oracle may be interested in JBoss to "pull something in that is strong and tested" or to "integrate code", and although aware of its existing J2EE server was not sure of how well it is performing.

"It's interesting to see Oracle interested in [open source]," he said, adding in the event of an acquisition "hopefully someone else will pick up the JBoss code and run with it".

It's this openness of high-profile software like JBoss that gives Tentij the confidence that open source J2EE server "will always be there".

On the prospect of improved support for an Oracle-owned JBoss, Tentij said he's happy with the current level of support provided by JBoss.

Another concern is Oracle's pricing which, if applied to open source software is "obviously not a good thing".

"With commercialization can come complexity, so the whole service component goes up," Tentij said.

Tentij believes commercial software "seems to have high overheads", because "a lot of commercial software has overshot and spent money on features people don't need".

"So you get the high price and whole cost structure," he said. "One of the ways to bring costs down is to use cheaper software."

Oracle thinks its own application server is faster and more secure than that of JBoss, but the JBoss software is "just fine" for some applications, Ellison said last week.

And because many application servers are based on the same Java standards, including those from IBM and BEA, "that puts us into direct competition with open source", Ellison said.

"So our view is that rather than fight this trend, we've architected our middleware so we can unplug our Java container and use JBoss. ... We can mix and match our middleware stack with open-source components, so that customers get to choose what Java container they want to run," he said.

Forrester Research senior analyst Sam Higgins said due to the "fierce independence" of the open source community, it would not be surprising to see Sleepycat's Berkeley database be forked into an independent project.

"A logical path here, if people are using Berkeley, is to see a safe harbour project [form] for users wanting to remain independent of Oracle," Higgins said.

Higgins said other vendors like IBM have been careful about creating a virtual wall between itself and the open source community where developers make contributions to projects.

"If Oracle doesn't create a clear mechanism, that's what would drive people to an independent project," he said. "If Oracle was to become the main provider of a 'cleansed' version of the project that could work to appease some folk [and] the fact that it is so pervasive should make it safe."

Higgins believes an acquisition of such a fundamental "DNA" of database systems is bound to "cause a ripple" when you are a vendor.

On the rumoured acquisition of JBoss, Higgins expressed uncertainty over "what JBoss would give Oracle".

"It has established itself as a reasonably strong application server environment," he said. "One consideration is [whether it gives] an easy way to offer a better price point. If you don't have the cost overhead of R&D, and you don't manage a large partner network, it will be price-pointed better."

Oracle's Asia Pacific senior vice president of strategy and mergers, Brain Mitchell, said the Sleepycat acquisition forms part of its goal to build out its technology base, particularly in the embedded space.

"The embedded opportunities are really interesting - from mobile phones to Web servers, PDAs, and switches," Mitchell said. "This will really build out our capability to work with open source on one hand and with the commercial space."

Mitchell said Oracle will encourage deployment of both the open source and commercial components of Berkeley.

Mitchell declined to comment on the possibility of JBoss being acquired by Oracle.

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