Open Technology in Uncertain Times
By roger on Apr 21, 2009
We've got our share of uncertainty these days. The global economic downturn has caused a whole lot of uncertainty. Many people are losing jobs and the economy that thrives on hope is full of doubt. Yet there is a silver lining. More than ever people are reevaluating their work and their lives. They are figuring out new ways to increase efficiency, streamline their work, focus on what is important, in short reevaluate everything. Some people who are laid off from one job are finding the time right for starting up a new venture, something they might never have taken the initiative to do before. Others are finding better strategies to make themselves more competitive.
We got a large does of uncertainty yesterday as it was announced that Oracle planning to buy Sun. This is an official proclamation, not a rumor.
Several people have been asking about how the news of Oracle buying Sun will affect the various projects here in Sun Labs. What are the implications to open source? What about Oracle's view on research in general? The short answer is that we don't really know what course this will take but there are a few important things we can say now. First is that up until the deal closes (or doesn't) this summer, we are two independent companies. We will be going about our business with our Sun-oriented priorities just as we have before. Don't expect us to be suddenly change the direction of our research or anything. Second, it will probably take some time for the news to settle in and for all the implications to follow their course. At this point no one knows the details because they don't exist. I believe that one of the reasons Oracle is interested in us is because of Sun's strong history of innovation and it's certainly my hope that Sun Labs will plays a strong part in the future as well.
..but enough about us...
Because so many of our projects in Sun Labs are community-based open source, our communities have a significant stake in this too. For those of you who have invested your valuable time and energy into our technology, what does this mean?
Let me start by saying that research labs are usually created to take on risk that is not appropriate for the other parts of the business. By definition, we take on projects that can fail. There is always the risk that a project will end regardless of who is buying whom or what the current economic climate is like. Usually this is technical risk. Its not clear that the merger puts any project at more or less risk than before.
So what about the future? The good news is that you have more influence than you might think. It used to be that consumers of technology were completely dependent on the projects that produced that technology and ultimately that company's budget and management commitment. Whether a company is purchased or goes through some tough financial times or not, projects at corporations can come and go on a whim. Today, with open source, that is no longer so true. Once the source code is out there, it can never really be taken back. It doesn't just belong to the company, it belongs to the community. In fact, that is why we like open source. By giving up a little bit of control, we gain your partnership in insights, imagination, enthusiasm, innovation, direction and leadership. What we gain from open source is exactly the fact that the community can influence the direction of the project. If, in the worst case, a project funding goes away for whatever reason, the community remains. In the case of most every Sun Labs project, the number of people in our communities dwarf the number of people actually assigned to a project here in Labs. The community is much bigger than the internal project. The technology is out there and it will continue to be used and pushed forward by the community.
More importantly, a strong community is one of the best arguments for a company's continued investment in a technology. When a project has a strong community, engineers are inspired, managers feel external validation, sales and marketing sees evidence that we are on an interesting track with market potential. When you use an open source technology and more importantly when you participate in its community, you endorse that project/technology. Just by browsing the web site and posting comments on the forums, you are casting your vote for it to continue. When it comes time for evaluation of a project, the community can make or break a project. Make sure that your favorite project has the most web site hits, forums posts and projects based on it to make it clear that it has a strong community. Blog, Twitter and otherwise spread the news to help grow the community and make it a success for everyone.
So don't think about who is being bought by whom or what the economic crisis of the moment is. Think about the technology that the world needs and become a supporter of it. Do you part to make the world a better place.