IBM is in talks to acquire Sun Microsystems, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Sun has struggled to revive its financial prospects in the wake of declining interest in its Solaris operating system and associated hardware. Open source has been the big bright spot for Sun, but Sun’s ability to recoup hardware losses with free software has been suspect.
IBM could fix that. IBM knows how to make money from software, and it could lend a hard-edged pragmatism to Sun’s open-source idealism.
The Journal reports on the culture clash between the two companies, which could complicate the deal. I believe, however, that the conflicting cultures are actually complementary:
A combination would require melding companies with distinct, dissimilar cultures. IBM, an East Coast stalwart that helped invent the computer industry, grew up with a button-down style and a philosophy of delivering what customers want. Sun, which grew up in the go-go environment of the 1980s in Silicon Valley, is an engineering-driven maverick with a record of major innovations that has lately struggled to profit from them.
Let Sun build. Let IBM monetize.
The two companies have fought each other for years, but Sun and IBM bring a range of complementary technologies, product lines, and business strategies to the table. Sun is staking its business on driving sales through open-source adoption. Free software makes sense in this strategy.
IBM, by contrast, has increasingly staked more of its business on driving adoption through open-source software-based sales. Open-source software, which IBM can embed in its products, makes sense in this strategy. IBM actively undermines competitors by seeding open-source projects such as various Apache Software Foundation projects, Linux, and Eclipse. It then sells proprietary add-ons to that open-source software.
In other words, IBM may be exactly what Sun needs to complete its open-source transition. I can’t speak to the hardware benefits of such a deal, but in terms of open source, this combination would be a home run.
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