The Power of Adoption: Why no Company is Big Enough to Deny Developers What They Want

Engineering | Rod Johnson | January 16, 2008 | ...

Quite a day for news as we complete our first annual Spring eXchange in London. First, the news that Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL, and then the long anticipated acquisition of BEA Systems by Oracle. Before commenting any further, I want to congratulate all of our friends at MySQL, especially Mårten Mickos, and all of our friends at BEA. The trend of consolidation in this industry is increasing.

As an open source company, we are thrilled to see MySQL rewarded for their effort. We have seen how hard Mårten and his colleagues have worked to build their software, community and a strong business, benefiting countless developers in the process. They have been among the pioneers of open source. More importantly, we have appreciated the counsel and advice the MySQL folks have given us as we build our business in northern California and around the world. Their success is well earned and we wish them all the success in the world in their new endeavors.

This sets a new benchmark for open source transactions. To date, the previous data points (JBoss, Zimbra, XenSource, Gluecode) have not come close to the $1 billion spent by Sun by MySQL and combined barely achieve the amount.

The acquisition of MySQL by Sun marks one of the most significant recognitions of the importance and power of open source as a disruptive force in technology. Under Jonathan Schwartz, Sun is reinventing itself as an open source company, as shown by their investment in the open source application server Glassfish, their decision to open source Java, and the change of their ticker symbol to JAVA. Schwartz and Sun faced a significant challenge: how do you reinvent a gigantic company as a software company--challenging powerful incumbents in the process? I believe that Schwartz has shown real vision in recognition that this was possible only by taking advantage of the modern method of software distribution--open source.

Schwartz writes in his blog:

Customers confirmed what we've known for years - that MySQL is by far the most popular platform on which modern developers are creating network services.
He could have simply written that adoption has power. My COO Neelan Choksi likes to talk about how money can't buy a community. It appears that Jonathan Schwartz has realized that open source needs to be nurtured:
Sun is already committed to the business model at the heart of MySQL's success - first investing to grow communities of users and developers, and only then creating commercial services that attract (rather than lock in) paying customers.
The vision and leadership at Sun suggests that they will make this acquisition a success--unlike Red Hat with JBoss, due to incompatible sales models and culture clashes.

Finally, Sun's move and the price point reinforces the now incontrovertible fact that open source is now mainstream.

We've always had a a great relationship with BEA and with the most recent release of WebLogic Server using Spring at its core, that relationship has deepened. Additionally we've always had a great relationship with Oracle. Oracle's acquisition of BEA brings together two SpringSource partners and we anticipate enjoying an even stronger relationship with the combined company.

That said, Oracle has an obvious but difficult decision to make as a company which now has two application servers. Our expectation is that the Oracle application server, OC4J, is history and Oracle will focus on driving WebLogic Server. The driver here, again, is adoption. Even a company as powerful as Oracle, with the ability to mandate a complete stack for many customers, has failed to make its application server an independent force in the market despite numerous attempts and the efforts of some talented developers. While WebLogic is a closed source product (which albeit contains much open source), it owes its market position, even today, to its adoption and loyalty of developers, in much the same way as MySQL. BEA's success has always seemed to be directly proportional to the amount of effort it has spent on building a strong developer communication.

Hopefully Oracle will clarify its intentions in this space very quickly. However, as Spring runs well on both products and we have historically collaborated with both teams, Spring users on either platform will be able to sleep better at night.

Another link between these acquisitions are that Sun and Oracle now appear to be on a collision course. Oracle history shows their utter determination to crush any competitors in the database space, and their ability to do so. Sun is now a competitor in that highly profitable core business. With the loss of momentum from JBoss, the Java EE application server market now looks set to be a two-horse race between IBM and Oracle. Glassfish gives Sun a dark horse in this race, but it's unclear whether this market category will show the growth to accommodate a new entrant, given the growing predominance of Tomcat as a production platform.

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