January 28, 2010

Oracle and Apple: This Week's Big Tech News and What it Means for Linux

The tech industry is jumping this week. On the consumer side, Apple finally took the wraps off the poorly named but interesting iPad. On the enterprise side, Oracle finally had the chance to lay claim to Sun and spell out what it's planning to do with the spoils.

While Apple's announcement got most of the attention, Oracle+Sun is of more interest to most in the Linux community. Specifically, after waiting something like nine months to move forward with the acquisition, it's finally real and Oracle is discussing its roadmaps for all of Sun's product lines. Or most of them, anyway.

Not Many Details

For five hours of presentation and discussion, Oracle didn't put a lot of actual details forward on what it plans to do.

OpenOffice.org seems to be poised to get its own division and Oracle+Sun seem to be ready to move ahead with Web-based OpenOffice.org. But that was only briefly mentioned. This makes sense, as sponsoring OpenOffice.org will be a drop in the bucket for Oracle, but a continuing thorn in the side of Microsoft, something Oracle chief Larry Ellison has to enjoy.

And the company says it will give MySQL room to breathe and grow. If the company's purchase of BerkeleyDB is any indication, MySQL may do well with Oracle, and perhaps do even better if the commitments around increased development ring true.

During the press call, one of the questions was whether Oracle found the furor over MySQL to be a discouraging sign for working with the FLOSS community. To Oracle's credit, the response was no, and that the company planned to continue working heavily with FLOSS.

Oracle's Commitment to Linux Remains Strategic

Generally, Oracle seems interested in continuing to contribute to Linux, at least in the areas specifically strategic to the company, and offering Linux to its customers that want it. Ellison said: "We have no problem having Linux and Solaris, different products addressing different markets. Want to make them both better."

The likelihood is that Oracle will continue to invest in both Solaris and Linux for the next few decades, though what Oracle plans to do with OpenSolaris wasn't made clear yesterday. The company can reap a lot of benefits from its Solaris installed base while customer demand continues to push it towards increasing its already sizable commitment to Linux. This is not dissimilar from what IBM did with AIX and Linux.

Speaking of its Linux offerings, Oracle did commit to continuing Oracle Enterprise Linux, describing it as "Red Hat Linux Plus." The company didn't elaborate or spell out any plans to move things like ZFS into Linux, or talk specifically about its plans for btrfs.

I lost count how many times Oracle folks referenced the fact that they were hiring across all areas. This could translate into good news for FLOSS developers.

The iPad

The other big news is, of course, Apple finally announcing its tablet device. Aside from a ridiculous premium to add 3G ($130 for a few extra chips?), the device looks like an interesting computing solution for average users.

On the surface, it could appear that the iPad will give netbooks and low-end home computers a bit of a run for the money. Although, Linux netbooks have something dialed that even Apple can’t match – and that is price. While the price of the iPad doesn’t have the same sticker shock as a variety of Apple products, it certainly doesn’t compete with the $200 and $300 netbooks available today.

The iPad is well-suited to doing some basic productivity tasks, browsing, email, and so forth, as well as gaming, video, etc. It wouldn't be a very good primary machine for geeks, but it certainly would be sufficient computing power for my parents or friends who just want to send a few emails, watch some YouTube, and maybe play a few games.

Not only that, but it comes in a slick design with immediate access to multimedia content, books, and much more. Granted, it's a freedom-lover's nightmare, but most consumers aren't going to be buying their devices based on how Free-friendly they are, they're going to be checking ease of use, applications, and so on .

Boiling it Down

The iPad’s design and technology are impressive, and it’s marketing muscle can’t be overestimated. But look for Moblin and Chrome OS to beef up their developer efforts to match their already great price point and let’s see where things are in six months.

For enterprise Linux, what Oracle said today looks positive and the company will continue to support Linux – I’d guess more and more as customer demand continues to increase. Increased investment, and clear stewardship of OpenOffice.org would be good for the larger community, and if Oracle makes good on its R&D comments, perhaps a few more people will be working full time on Linux and other parts of the stack.

It will be interesting to look in again on Oracle+Sun in about 100 days and see what's going on with the various projects it handles, who's left at the company, and whether the community roadmaps for its activities are clear publicly.

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