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Shady Illuminations

A Few Words about Oracle’s Sun

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
Some elements of Sun Microsystems were never going to survive the move to Oracle. John runs down the Doomed List.

In reviewing Volkswagen’s New Coupe last year, Edward Niedermeyer seems to have coined the word apathyosis. At least I assume he thought it up himself, since he hyphenated it so we’d be more likely to get the joke. I got it once I’d I researched it. Apotheosis means exalting any subject to a supreme height, so apathy-osis would mean drabbing down something to the point where you bore the pants off the paying customers. It wasn’t a positive review.

And it wasn’t boring.

I figured if I wrote about Oracle again I’d risk boring the pants off my customers, so I decided to emulate Niedermeyer and throw in some words in my own DIY-alect, plus some real but obscure words. That oughta work.

The Doomed List

Ever since Oracle bought Sun, the punditry has been analyzing Oracle’s every move, trying to predict the next one, trying to place specific corporate decisions in some broader strategic context, examining the debris of the acquisition and the punditry’s collective navel for clues.

I am not a pundit. I do not engage in omphaloskepsis (navel-gazing). I don’t know what will happen to SPARC, Solaris, or MYSQL. I doubt that those who prognosticate know, either. Count me among the omphaloskeptics. I’ve always been umbilicodubious.

But some things are blindingly obvious. Certain parts of Sun were never going to survive the transition. Let’s just run down the Doomed for the Get-Go List.


Sun had some big-name programmers. Stars. Not Google-class stars, but stars nonetheless. Oracle bought them along with the hardware, software, real estate, debt, frivolous patents, and customer goodwill. And like the other assets in the Sun portfolio, they had to fit into Oracle’s plans, or they would not shine in Oracle’s firmament.

And they’re not. Are we surprised? Did anyone really think that Tim Bray and Charles Nutter and James Gosling were going to survive the acquisition, to join the other software superstars at Oracle, like—

I’ll just step out for a cup of java while you make a list of all the famous software developers at Oracle.

OK, let’s compare lists. Mine’s empty. And yours? Well, that’s my point. There are no stars at Oracle. There can’t be any stars at Oracle. All the attention has to be on Larry Ellison. There’s no room for other egos. It’s all Larry. So Gosling and Bray and anybody else with a following? They were all doomed from the signing.


The Register reports that Oracle is retiring the domain. That domain is apparently the twelfth oldest currently registered domain name, behind,,,,,,,,,, and Oracle is moving all useful content from it and shutting it down. Thus saving those onerous registration fees.



Oracle doesn’t do sentiment.

Oracle has no interest in Sun’s history or legacy. Oracle acquired certain assets when it bought Sun. That is all. It will now proceed to write over everything that was once Sun. Decades from now, historians of business will have to use some as-yet-uninvented technology to read the subsurface traces of Sun erased and replaced by layers of Oracle history.

The page has not so much turned on Sun as it has started to be overwritten: Sun is becoming a palimpsest. Which, as Wikipedia informs us, is “a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and which can be used again.” Since Larry seems to take the view that Oracle is monetizing Sun’s hobbies, make that a paypalimpsest.


If that multi-billion-dollar company founded in the mid-90s to help people find their way around the web by two Stanford PhD students with four-letter last names were to merge with that other multi-billion-dollar company founded in the mid-90s to help people find their way around the web by two Stanford PhD students with four-letter last names, we’d have a right to be concerned about any offspring of that consanguineous coupling.

In the case of Oracle now managing products developed by Sun, we’re probably more concerned about the creepy results of xenotransplantation.

Not to worry. Oracle doesn’t absorb the culture of the companies it buys. It dissolves their cultures in its corrosive digestive juices. Oracle is impervious to cultural inoculation. Whatever can adapt to Oracle’s reptilian culture has a chance of surviving in the Body Oracular. What doesn’t, doesn’t.

OpenSolaris didn’t. Open sourcey, community-y projects haven’t, generally. Harmony co-founder and Apache treasurer Geir Magnusson said, “The problems [that] have surfaced over the last 12 to 18 months have been sort of all around open source community.” Oracle also doesn’t think that free is the right price for Solaris. Free is part of the hippy-dippy pony-tailed do-good-to-make-good culture of Sun that just doesn’t fit in at Oracle.

Like Jonathan Schwartz.

John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook or his fondness for his fellow humans. If it takes a village, he says, he’d rather not.

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