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Sun Reductions Will Hit Open Source Efforts

In late November, many thousands of Sun Microsystems employees got the word that effective January 4, their services will no longer be required. While the cuts were expected, the extent of the layoffs are more far-reaching than might be expected.

In addition to the usual suspects being hit in a merger -- accounting, HR, sales, marketing -- Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) is also dismissing many people involved in open source projects, including people who are directly involved with MySQL and would ostensibly be needed for Oracle to keep its many promises to the European Commission.

"They have made a five-year promise to the EU and have RIF'd folks that are directly involved with the efforts," said a source familiar with the reductions who did not wish to be identified. 'RIF'd' is slang for "reduction in force," a nicer way to say laid off. "So I am very hesitant to believe what is being promised," the source added.

Sun has people involved in open source efforts all over the company, from support engineering and marketing to sales and research. The source estimated that up to 3,000 people alone are in those efforts.

Officials for Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) could not be reached for comment.

While it doesn't make the company money directly, saying you are open source "opens the doors and allows folks to check off the boxes that you are open source. Many, many organizations now have that as a requirement, especially outside of the U.S.," the source noted.

Oracle is not the first company that comes to mind when discussing open source efforts, but it does have them in-house, including the InnoDB database and its Unbreakable Linux software.

What stays?

The biggest individual question mark hangs over Sun Fellow and Java creator James Gosling. His status is unclear, but it would seem a no-brainer that Oracle do whatever it can to retain him. Also uncertain is the fate of JavaOne, the annual Java developer conference. Despite rumors of its demise, there is nothing certain on that show's fate.

Oracle, as it turns out, is very keen on Solaris but looks to be ready to cut the OpenSolaris project loose. The exact details are not clear, but it looks like the current build on the Web today would be it, and Oracle would return Solaris development back to its pre-CEO Jonathan Schwartz days when it was closed source and not used as an experiment for new technologies.

Oracle's plans for Java are unclear, but most of the team, both marketing and engineering, working on the OpenJDK project have been cut loose already.

Sun's GlassFish is a priority for Oracle, so that team is still pretty much in place. The Sparc processor family will stay, as Oracle promised in a Wall Street Journal advertisement several months ago, and, perhaps not surprising for a database company, Oracle is also keeping the storage business intact.

But the rumors of Rock's demise are indeed true, said the source. Several months back, The New York Times reported that Sun killed Rock, the codenamed next-generation processor that has been mostly vapor for a few years.

Rock is indeed dead but Sun will continue with its evolutionary UltraSparc development. On the earnings call last week, Ellison said Oracle would focus on the high-end server market with Sparc and x86 and not bother with the low-end or mid-range markets.

None of this surprises Martin Reynolds, research vice president with Gartner. "You have to look at Sun financials to see there's a whole lot of spending going on that doesn't go to the bottom line. Usually you try to get things sorted out before a merger is completed, so this is a good sign Sun believes things are coming to a conclusion," he told InternetNews.com.

As part of the merger deal, Sun has to clean itself up in advance of the deal closing, and Oracle can't influence Sun's business during this period. And Reynolds doubts Sun would make a mess for its new owner.

"It would be strange for Sun to do things that would make it difficult for Oracle to keep its commitments. So I wouldn't read too much into that," he said.

But Reynolds is not surprised at the prospect of a number of cuts. Sun had a lot of projects it funded that didn't make money, and it has little to show for its open source efforts. For example, OpenSolaris got lots of accolades and little else to show for it, he notes. Reynolds added he would not be surprised if future versions of Solaris and Java are not released as open source.