I was thinking about this as I drove to work this morning: what is the real business value to Oracle of buying Sun ?

It occurred to me that part of the many benefits to Oracle are the products that help them compete better with the Microsoft offerings. Could this be another in a long line of acquisitions by Larry Ellison in his quest to make Oracle a more successful company than Microsoft ?

Microsoft has owned this market for some time now, and has had some tools that Oracle has tried to compete with over the years. Microsoft had Access, which is at a surface level a database, but has over the years served much better as a front-end tool for database access. Oracle has tried to  address this over the years, first with Oracle Forms, then with JSF and ADF, and now APEX (formerly known as HtmlDb).

These tools, while extremely capable, have never had the low entry to use that has been available in the Microsoft product line, and now with the rapid introduction of Silverlight, Microsoft is threatening to dominate the RIA market.

There is tremendous buzz (hype?) in the market about the RIA competition, with both Adobe and Microsoft claiming a market penetration of over 70%. Sun has similar figures with Java, and has recently entered this market full force with JavaFX.

JFX combined with MySQL looked to have the potential for introduction of new products that would displace both the rich media and rich data driven applications that have been dominated by Flash (Flex).

With the acquisition of Sun by Oracle, it is entirely possible that a solid Flex and Silverlight competitor could emerge due to the capabilities of the Java platform for producing UI, combined with the simplification in coding provided by JavaFX. This could also give rise to an easy to use tool that could replace Access as the easiest way to build an application, by integrating the JavaFX UI capabilities with the Oracle developer tools.

The only missing piece in this puzzle for me is that focus on the end user as being capable. Oracle has great tools for developers, and they help build applications extremely easily, but they haven’t done a great job with figuring out how to bridge the gap between the technical types and the consumers. I don’t think it’s a vast chasm to cross, but they would need to focus on improving the ease of use to compete head to head with Microsoft and Adobe.

Not only does the Sun acquisition continue to strengthen the web tools that Oracle has recently improved with their WebLogic tools, expand their hold in the database market, and solidify their place in the SOA market, but it also allows them to compete better in the hottest area of competition at the moment: Rich Internet Applications.

What will Oracle do with these capabilities ? Only time will tell.

Today I read a blog that was a continuation of the series of ads that Microsoft has about why you should buy a PC instead of a Mac.

The article (see http://tinyurl.com/cncx73) was one of those cutesy marketing ideas that looked at the alleged difference in cost between a Mac and a PC and came up with an imaginary tax rebate based on the savings. The author used this whitepaper as the basis for the comparison. Like all of these comparisons, comparing apples to oranges results in the preferred hardware (in this case the PC) being shown to be a better deal.

I do most of my work on a MacBook Pro, after being a laptop user for more years than I care to count. I switched when it became possible to do so without giving up Windows. With the current crop of Apple machines, you have the option of running Windows directly, setting things up to dual boot (BootCamp), or running Windows in a VM (using Parallels, Fusion, VirtualBox, etc.)

Which once again leads me to ask why would Microsoft bash Apple ?

For me, nothing changed in what I buy from Microsoft – I still need a copy of the operating system, and application suite. I can choose to run some parts under the Mac OS, or just use the Microsoft products as I always have. Granted there are open source alternatives for many of these, but that is true for both the Mac OS and Windows.

When I bought the first Macbook, it was only very slightly more than a comparable IBM thinkpad (which at the time was the business laptop of choice). The only selling point for me was that I would have a second operating system on which to test my development work. In other words, I was getting a dev box that I could use for much less than buying a second machine would have been.

My other reason for buying the MacBook was that it weighed about half of what the ThinkPad did, and had that nice aluminum shell to protect it. Lugging a laptop with a power supply and extra battery around cost me about 10-12pounds in my backpack, so reducing that by about half was very attractive (especially on the 20 mile bike ride home).

What I learned after the fact has made me very glad about making the purchase.

Advantage 1 – Better battery life

I gained a great deal of battery life. My first MacBook Pro gave me 4-6 hours of life on a charge, meaning I could go from meeting to meeting and not have to worry about it dying because I couldn’t find a plug. I could also make it through most flights without the machine dying. I used to have to lug extra batteries for this.

Advantage 2 – Instant sleep

On some laptop PC‘s, when you close the lid, it will try to sleep, or hibernate. The problem is that it doesn’t always work, and even if it does, it seems to take forever to wake back up (and occasionally won’t wake up). With the Mac, I was pleased to find that as soon as I closed the lid, the machine went to sleep. On the MacBook, the little power indicator does a slow blink to let you know it is asleep, and that happens almost immediately.

Especially on days that I was rushing out of the office to catch the train, or hop on my bike, it was immensely gratifying to know I didn’t have to worry about whether the machine actually was sleeping or not. I can recall a few times getting home, unpacking my PC, only to find that it had been ON in my backpack for the whole ride home (and sometimes had overheated because of being in that enclosed space). I eventually learned to shut down the machine before leaving, which meant another 15 minutes or more of non-productive time.

Advantage 3 – Start up time

When I was lugging a Thinkpad to work every day, I would plug it in, dock it and go get breakfast. That was because it took around half an hour to fully boot up the machine from being powered off.  With the Mac, if I had powered it all the way off, it only takes a minute or so to boot up, and it is almost instant when starting from sleep.

Advantage 4 – Support

While having a Thinkpad and working for a large corporation, I never had to really think about hardware support. If something broke, I’d just take it to the IT guys, and they’d get it working again (or replace it). When I went out on my own, the very scary possibility that my work machine might die came into play. I bought service contracts for my first few machines, and learned that while they protect you, it is definitely not the same as you get with the desktop support guys.

To get support, you had to wade through a web site, and it was almost impossible to find a real person to talk to (other than the chat bots that everybody seems to use now). And if you had a hardware problem, it was: ship it back to us, we’ll fix it and if it was under warranty we won’t charge you, average turnaround two weeks.

To be fair, I’ve never bought a machine from one of the retail markets like Best Buy or Fry’s, and that’s mostly because of my experience when talking to the people that work there. My impression is that you’re not going to find stellar support there, since you’re basically working with a group that has a broader focus than just the PC’s they sell.

With my first Mac however, things were indeed different. I bought the machine through the web, and the first time I had a problem,  I was able to call support. And when I had my first actual issue (a hard drive failure that was caused by me dropping the Mac from about belly high), I took it to the store and they fixed it. Let me say it again: they fixed it, and I only left it with them for a couple of days. And this was before I bought an Apple Care contract!

Advantage Mac OS X

So for me, the advantage is clear, and Microsoft doesn’t even lose out since they don’t sell hardware. I gain significantly in productivity with the Mac, and have my VM for those Microsoft apps I need to stay compatible.

I still don’t get why Microsoft bashes the Mac, maybe they’re worried about the home user who might not need any PC software, but that seems like a sale they would have lost anyway. I’ll continue to buy solid hardware like Apple makes, and decide on which operating system based on the needs I have to interact with my customers, which will include Windows for the forseeable future.

One more thing I ran into after posting the blog on my Microsoft Office update problem originally. Turns out that the update reassociated all of the “Office” files with the Microsoft programs (even though they don’t exist on my machine), so double-clicking a document for instance tries to open it with Microsoft Word (which of course fails).

To reassociate the documents:

  1. Go to Finder and right click a document
  2. Choose “Get Info” from the pop-up
  3. Look for the section that says “Open with:”
  4. Change it to Open Office (or whatever your Office equivalent is).
  5. Click the “Change All …” button to make it global

Once that is done, double-clicking should once again open the file with the program you’ve picked.