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Oracle may merge pieces of OpenSolaris with Linux, analysts say

Oracle Corp. may end up merging the best features of OpenSolaris with Linux once it takes control of Sun Microsystems Inc., but it is unlikely to kill off Sun's widely used Solaris operating system, analysts said today.

During a conference call today after the $7.4 billion acquisition deal was announced, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said one of the primary reasons Oracle is interested in Sun is Solaris, a version of Unix that has a large installed base and has long been the leading platform for Oracle's flagship database.

Oracle is also a big proponent of Linux, though — so the deal with Sun raises questions about how Oracle might reconcile the two operating systems. Indeed, just two weeks ago, Edward Screven, Oracle's corporate chief architect and top Linux engineer, said that the company would like to see Linux become the default operating system for the data center, so that customers don't even have to think about choosing an operating system.

“What we are working to do in the data center … is to make Linux the default,” Screven said in a speech at the Linux Foundation's Collaboration Summit in San Francisco. “We want there to be no question.”

Ovum Ltd. analyst David Mitchell said today that it's unlikely Oracle would get rid of the commercial version of Solaris in favor of Linux, mainly because of the steady stream of maintenance revenue that Sun derives from the software. Both Sun and Oracle also get professional services revenue from Solaris, Mitchell noted.

“Typically, it's a 90%-plus margin business,” he said. “Oracle is unlikely to do anything to damage that extremely profitable maintenance/support business.”

Mitchell predicted that Oracle will continue to invest in and update Solaris, which is widely used in mission-critical markets such as telecommunications and financial services. But he added that bringing some features of OpenSolaris, the open-source version of the operating system, into Linux is an option, and something that has already been in the works among developers.

“What I can see them doing is seeing which elements of Solaris could find their way into Linux,” Mitchell said. “Sun has already committed to doing things like that. This coming together of Linux [and] Solaris has already been in the cards.”

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