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That was our first response when we saw a WSJ headline and a sampling of comments from the blogosphere, here and here, earlier this morning. And it still is.

Ever since the popping of the dot com bubble, Sun has been trying to redefine itself. At core, Sun has always been a hardware company -- initially CADCAM workstations, and then thanks to purchase of part of Cray Computing's assets -- a server company. That was fine when Windows couldn't provide the scale required for the running websites, and before clustered Linux blades proved the viability of low cost/no cost, eating Sun's lunch. Sun had Java, but ceded the business and much of development tooling standards to IBM before the web development market fragmented with new, popular scripting languages.

So what should Sun do when it grows up? Back in 2003, we suggested Sun eat its young in classic Silicon Valley fashion: junk the software business, where it has never made money, and bite the bullet on Unix staking a new line in the sand for 64-bit Linux. A lot of our friends at Sun stopped returning calls and emails after that. Had Sun done so, it would have enjoyed a 2 - 3 year head start, of course at the price of transitioning to a higher volume, lower margin business model for which it is now still struggling with.

Fast forward to the present, and Sun is several years into a strategy to become an open source company. Fine idea had it begun prior to Jonathan Schwartz's watch. But Sun's boldest move of recent, buying MySQL for a billion dollars, was great for grabbing attention, but was hardly a game-changer in that this little database-that-could could not carry a $5 billion overall business (it would have made more sense a couple years earlier had Sun already been well underway down a Linux road, which it wasn't).

So what does IBM really have to gain from spending $6.5 billion? More share in UNIX servers? UNIX is not exactly a growing market these days. With Linux eating UNIX's lunch, IBM has been already quite busy, thank you, pushing the middleware and management systems that do make money atop Linux, which doesn't. Migration of the tiny base of NetBeans users to Eclipse? Wy bother, that bird has already flown. A land office market in MySQL (when IBM already has stakes in the more scalable EnterpriseDB)?


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