Oracle Corp.'s announcement last week that it plans to buy Sun Microsystems Inc. raised questions about, well, almost every aspect of the blockbuster deal that would unite two Silicon Valley icons.
The only sure bets are that Oracle sees benefits in acquiring Java and the Solaris operating system -- the only two Sun technologies mentioned as part of the announcement -- and that thousands of additional Sun workers are likely to be laid off in order to meet Oracle's ambitious profit goals.
It's unclear, though, what will happen to the Java Community Process and Sun's other open-source technologies, such as the MySQL database. The same goes for the Sun-dominated OpenOffice.org application suite and its Sun-owned commercial cousin, StarOffice. Whether Oracle really intends to become a full-fledged hardware vendor and chip developer is also uncertain. Another question on the minds of Sun customers is how the deal with affect their service and support.
In a brief conference call last Monday, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison outlined some of the reasons for the move and praised Java and Solaris -- and largely left it at that. Ellison and other Oracle executives didn't take any questions about their plans, leaving the details to be spelled out at a later date.
And that leaves some Sun users worried about what the future may bring.
Among them is Alfonso Rivera, manager of network engineering at Embarq Corp., a telecommunications and Internet services provider in Overland Park, Kan. Sun's servers are generally more expensive than rival systems, Rivera said via e-mail. But, he added, the technology's reliability and Sun's "outstanding service and support practices more than offset the premium in hardware costs."
Now, Rivera said, he's concerned that Oracle will "undermine the Sun culture" and reduce the quality of customer service. If that happens, he said, the justification for paying Sun's premium prices will disappear.
Alex Wingeier, chief technical officer at CLR Choice Inc., a Palm Coast, Fla., company that has developed a real estate search engine, said that he and other members of his IT team also have concerns about Oracle taking over Sun.
"We were not really keen on the fact that Oracle is buying Java, MySQL and OpenOffice," Wingeier said. "We worry that they quite possibly could stop internal development on either one."
That seems highly unlikely in the case of Java. During the conference call, Ellison described that technology as "the single most important software asset we have ever acquired." He also said that Oracle's Java-based Fusion Middleware product line is the fastest-growing part of its business.
Essentially, Ellison boiled Sun down to two key assets: Java and Solaris. And if the Oracle CEO was going to thumb his nose at former Sun suitor IBM, one obvious way of doing that would be to talk up Solaris -- which is exactly what Ellison did.
Many analysts didn't think that IBM, whose talks with Sun broke down three weeks ago, would have had any real interest in keeping Solaris alive on top of its own AIX version of Unix.
But Ellison claimed that Solaris is "by far the best Unix technology" and noted that Sun systems are the most popular platforms for running Oracle databases.