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Sun-IBM combo draws mixed views from Java crowd

Chris Kanaracus and Elizabeth Montalbano | March 19, 2009
Reports that IBM is in talks to buy Sun have the Java community buzzing with hope and angst.

But Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said IBM's software division would have "significant challenges" in monetizing Sun's open-source portfolio.

"IBM doesn't sell to developers, they sell to executives," he said via e-mail. "Executives don't make choices when it comes to selecting [open-source] frameworks -- developers do, and our data tells us that."

"IBM also has to reconcile Sun's middleware business model with it's own -- and they are quite different," Hammond added.

Also, IBM's software group is "not structurally set up to monetize an [open-source] support revenue stream model," he said. "I question whether they could meet the customer [service level agreements] required to maintain it."

Finally, IBM's software marketing efforts are decentralized, cutting across multiple brands, and it would be "a challenge to implement the 'closed loop' marketing model that Sun is putting into place to drive [open-source] conversion and adoption at the grass roots," Hammond said.

Ultimately, while a Sun-IBM union will likely be good news for both companies' customers, it likely won't represent any grand new direction for software in general, according to one observer.

Joe Lindsay, vice president of engineering for interactive media firm Brand Affinity Technologies, has worked closely with both Sun and IBM in his 20-year career as a developer, software engineer and IT executive.

He said both companies at one time or another showed innovation in the ways they embraced open-source technologies, and he found value in working with each for different reasons -- Sun for its technology innovations and IBM for its corporate IT discipline.

"In reality, innovation and the direction of IT technology is in the hands of the user community; open-source efforts and innovators at startups are really the drivers of the future; and IBM and Sun abdicated the position of innovators a while ago when it comes to software," he said.

It is unclear, of course, whether a sale will actually occur. An IBM spokesman said Wednesday the company doesn't "comment on rumors and speculation." A Sun spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

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