Outcome of acquisition talks unclear for IBM, Sun, customers

The two server rivals are reportedly in acquisition talks. A deal may be good for them, but it raises questions for Sun shops.

An acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc. by IBM might have its good points, especially for Sun's long-suffering shareholders. But IT users and analysts have concerns about the prospective deal that can be summed up in two words: uncertainty and fear.

While Sun is a diminished company these days, it remains influential, thanks largely to its open-source products and the massive development communities that have built up around them -- Java and MySQL in particular.

Now, with IBM and Sun reportedly engaged in acquisition talks, there are questions about what IBM might do with those technologies.

For instance, the potential deal got mixed reviews from Java users last week. On the Javalobby developer site, forum posts voiced worries that IBM would favor its own software products at the expense of Sun's.

There's also the issue of community relations. In Philadelphia alone, the local Java user group has more than 1,200 members. David Fecak, president of the decade-old group, said he and other members of the Java community like the democratic process that Sun has put in place to guide the technology's direction.

If a takeover does occur, Fecak wondered, would IBM continue to let the Java community operate as it does now -- or would it move decision-making "underground" and take "the community process away from the community"?

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., sees an inherent conflict between Sun's open-source ethos and what he thinks is IBM's continuing proprietary direction. Although IBM has been a big supporter of Linux, its embrace of the open-source operating system "is in the context of what serves IBM," Haff said.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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