The future for Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system and Java programming language are beginning to crystallize at Oracle, which completed its acquisition of Sun earlier this year. Among other things, Solaris is expected to morph from a formerly free and totally open-source product to one that requires the purchase of a license after an initial 90-day trial, according to media reports.

Oracle executives have said the company will continue to make OpenSolaris available as an open-source product -- as well as actively support and participate in the open-source community. But there are also hints of a new hybrid strategy under which certain Solaris components could feature proprietary code.

"There may be some things we choose not to open source going forward," said Oracle Director of Solaris Product Management Dan Roberts earlier this month. "It's important to understand the plan now is to deliver value again out of our IP investment, while at the same time measuring that with continuing to deliver OpenSolaris in the open."

Hard-nosed Decisions

Industry observers don't think the addition of a license fee for Solaris will stop enterprises from adopting the OS. The danger, however, is that any move away from an open-source implementation may discourage participation by the developer community, leading to the product's eventual demise.

Oracle is famous for making hard-nosed decisions around the cost benefits of investments, noted Al Hilwa, IDC's program director of applications development software. "There is no question that they have to figure out how to better monetize the Sun software assets in the future to take what was basically an underperforming software business into a money generator," he said.

For users of Solaris, this is a plus because solid monetization is the secret to longevity, Hilwa observed. "However, there is a balancing act that Oracle has to weigh, since open source can help keep a developer community active and alive," he explained.

Hilwa thinks it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. "Developers are watching carefully how Oracle handles the Java assets, but may view Solaris as of considerably less consequence than the broader Java line," Hilwa said.

Java To Flourish

By contrast, Sun's Java products appear poised to continue to flourish. In a recent report on Oracle's road map for Java, IDC estimated that Java will maintain a close and busy relationship with eight million developers worldwide -- right across its many varieties and supported form factors. IDC analysts also note that Oracle has forged its entire software strategy around the Java platform.

For example, the business software maker has anchored the architecture of its next-generation packaged Fusion applications around a Java-based application and integration platform middleware called Oracle Fusion Middleware. Additionally, IBM has had a long-term and long-running Java license that protects it for the next 10 years.

"What is at stake with the Oracle ownership and control over Java is not whether Java will be invested in or evolved, which is a certainty," wrote report authors Hilwa, Maureen Fleming, and Melinda-Carol Ballou. The main question Oracle faces is "whether Java can be evolved in a way that broadens its appeal and keeps it competitive and compelling against the steady onslaught of new languages, platform technologies, and programming metaphors," they wrote.

There is no doubt that the future success of Java is fundamental to the success of Oracle as a vendor of anything other than databases, the report's authors observed. "In fact, IDC believes that Oracle's new strategic initiatives in middleware and applications are more dependent on the viability of Java than was Sun Microsystems' strategy prior to the acquisition," they added.