Oracle is close to completing its takeover of long-term partner Sun Microsystems, raising questions over the future of the likes of Java and the Solaris operating system. But Sun chairman Scott McNealy reckons there's not much to worry about. Stuart Lauchlan reports from Day One of this year's Oracle jamboree in San Francisco.
“Kick some butt and have some fun.” That was the closing line of a video clips montage of the best of Scott McNealy that preceded the Sun Microsystems boss as he wandered out as the opening act at Oracle OpenWorld 2009 in San Francisco. He came not to bury Sun, but clearly to praise it. For all that, it was impossible not to detect a certain setting of the sun hanging over the presentation.
Wearing what he described as an 'Oracle maroon' jumper (not Oracle red because the software giant hasn't yet completed its takeover of Sun!), McNealy warned the audience at the Moscone Centre that there were lawyers crawling all over the building to monitor his words. This would, he suggested, limit what he was going to be able to say.
Nonetheless McNealy clearly wasn't about to embark on any false modesty at this stage. There is, after all, a damn good reason that Oracle is buying the company and it's not just for the installed base. “Innovation is at our core,” he declared. “We are all about innovation. Technology has the shelf life of a banana. We did that with a lot of great people and a lot of investment. The interesting component of that is thinking about putting Oracle's R&D operation in with our R&D bucket and you have one of the biggest R&D operations of all time.”
That Al Gore Feeling
Some of his claims were perhaps bordering on Al Gore's election boast to have invented the internet. For example, try his view on open source. “We kinda invented open source,” he declared, adding a hasty justification of that somewhat sweeping statement before anyone could call him on it.
As to the future, McNealy was at pains to reassure customers that the sun would continue to shine, but acknowledged that there were questions that needed answering. For example, what are the prospects for the MySQL open source database? Surely Oracle will kill that? “I don't think so,” offered McNealy. “It doesn't compete with Oracle; it competes with Microsoft.”
More importantly perhaps, what happens to Java? The world could live without MySQL, but if Oracle were to mess up Java's direction then the consequences would be widespread and significant. It's in almost every mobile device on the planet after all (except the iPhone as McNealy noted tartly), not to mention the London Underground's Oyster cards! “What does Larry say about Java?” asked McNealy rhetorically, before conceding that Oracle needed to be more effusive than Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's current statement that “Java speaks for itself.”
Joking that his marketing people were working with Oracle on improving the Java marketing message, McNealy wheeled out the 'father of Java' James Gosling to argue the case that Oracle will indeed be a good steward for Java. “I'm not really worried about Oracle for anything,” said Gosling, but had to add: “Oracle clearly have been unprepared for the volume of the Java developer programme. Look at their devleoper programme and look at ours and we have an extra couple of digits. They're getting their heads around it now. Sometimes they look a bit scared, but they're getting there.”
For his part, Gosling said he was looking forward to being part of Oracle. “I've never worked for a software company before,” he quipped. “They won't be a software company once we get done with them,” muttered McNealy.
At the setting of the Sun...
Of course, all of this is meaningless without the ratification of the man that McNealy called “my hero” so Ellison took to the stage to outline his intentions for Sun and what customers should expect – which is not what he says IBM is telling them to expect. “As soon as we announced the merger, IBM went to customers and said “Oracle will get out of hardware and not invest in Solaris. Can you cope with this level of uncertainty?',” he said. “No part of the hardware business are we selling. We intend to invest in Sparc. We are going to invest in it.
“Solaris is unquestionably the number one operating system in the world. It is the leading operating system running with the Oracle database. We are working with Sun to make all the Oracle software run faster and more reliably on Solaris than anywhere else. As for MySQL, it operates in a different market. We are going to increase Sun's investment in MySQL – we will spend more, not less. It's a fantastic piece of technology. It's a very popular product. If we make it a bit better then we might be able to make some money out of it.” (Cue slightly hesitant applause from the audience..)
To conclude, McNealy returned to the stage where he joked that Ellison was clearly going to have fun with “his new toy”. For its part, McNealy's speech was tinged with a more than a hint of poignancy. “You don't know when you're gonna get the chance to talk to a big audience again,” he said at one point, adding at another moment: “I'm gonna miss being chairman of a big company.”
If that really was McNealy's final outing as Sun chairman, his conclusion on the contribution that Sun has made to the IT industry was simple and really rather touching. “We kicked butt, had fun, didn't cheat, loved our customers and changed computing forever,” he said with perhaps just a slight catch in his voice. “I'm most proud of that.”