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Shark! Shark! in the IT business

Shark! Shark! screenshotDo you remember the classic Atari ST game where you, as a fish, eat other fishes while getting bigger and avoiding bigger fishes to eat you? It seems the last 4 years has seen its share of fishes eat and being eaten in the IT business.

Oh, it began innocently enough. JBoss just hired the Hibernate team. It was in November 2005. Less than 6 months later, JBoss was bought by Red Hat. I thought: “Wow, now Red Hat can provide a whole stack from Operating System to Middleware!”

January 2008: Oracle finally buys BEA Systems, the only serious commercial concurrent of IBM in the application server market. It already tried the buyout in October 2007. I then thought: “Oracle can provide the last 2 tier of any JEE application, Middleware and Database (please don’t raise the issue of Oracle Application Server). That’s interesting!”

About the same time, Sun has got the same idea the other way around when it buys MySQL. I thought: “They have both invested in OpenSource, that’s good strategy!”

When SpringSource bought Hyperion, my sense of wonder began to dry.

Now that Oracle has bought Sun and VMWare has bought SpringSource, I’m finally more concerned than ecstatic. Concurrent products that competed against one another are now in the same provider’s portfolio. No business has interest in having the same redundant softwares in its catalog. And lacking competition means no evolution, like Darwin theorized.

I always complained about Microsoft’s choices being more marketing oriented than technically sound. It could do that until it was the major player in its field. Java and Google put an end to that (ok, not entirely, this is open to discussion but let me make my point). In turn, and although Java was meant to stay a loooong time in version 1.4, Sun made it evolve because of the progress made by the .Net framework. From my humble point of view, that’s a vertuous circle in IT darwinism.

One may rightfully think the circle is now broken, when one looks at the following points:

  • Oracle Application Server and WebLogic are now owned by Oracle. Whereas stopping the development of OC4J may not be a bad thing in itself, I can’t be so sure about the whole stack surrounding both.
  • Even worse, why would Oracle need to put money in Glassfish development, now that it has WebLogic? I’m not an ardent Glassfish defender but it plays its role in the JEE ecosystem.
  • I can’t even think about Oracle database and MySQL, now that Oracle distributes Oracle Lite for free. That goes without saying but it is for development purposes only and without an OpenSource license of course.
  • What about JDeveloper and NetBeans? I fear only very bad things since if NetBeans development is stopped, it will mean IBM will do as it pleases with Eclipse (yes, I know about the Eclipse Foundation, but it still smells).
  • And poor JRockit?
  • And so on, ad nauseam.

The present concentration trend raises concerns, at least from me, because it may well end when there’s only one single player left standing. Remember the Atari game I talked about at the beginning? It was aptly named “Shark! Shark!” because regardless of the size you were, you could always be eaten by the shark. Whoever will end up being the shark, I can only guess, but if this doesn’t stop soon, we are all about to get eaten!

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  1. August 27th, 2009 at 21:42 | #1

    Nice and interesting article ! I do wonder what happens with people who invested a lot of their free time contributing to an open source project, fueling by their effort what the french philosopher Bernard Stiegler calls the contributive economy, when this articular open source product is purchased by one of those “shark” and is no longer available freely, like is the case with the last versions of JBoss 5 ? I’d be curious to know if they are angry, disappointed, if this shark eat’em all game may endanger the open source institution or if everything is ok in the best possible world.

  2. August 27th, 2009 at 22:32 | #2

    Sorry Jean-Pierre, I must disagree on your point, since JBoss 5 is still available in GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) Open Source license. Check jboss.org (as opposed to jboss.com).

    This kind of deal is the best for everyone since you have all benefits of OpenSource but with service equally available. The biggest argument against Open Source was the lack of support in the old days. MySQL and JBoss offer the best of both worlds IMHO.

    What worries me more is the single vendor dystopia where you have no choice over your products because there’s only one provider.

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