European Regulatory Hurdle Last Obstacle for Oracle’s Sun Acquisition

In what might qualify as its last quarterly financial report as a standalone public company, Sun Microsystems did not defy expectations. Nearly everybody who has been paying attention was anticipating awful numbers, and Sun meekly met the underachiever’s challenge.

The only possible surprise was that Sun didn’t do even worse. After all, we’ve been hearing about the sacking and plundering that IBM and HP have inflicted on Sun’s installed base of customers. If half those reports are credible, Sun is hemorrhaging buckets of future revenue and profits.

That’s Oracle’s problem now, presuming that the European Commission decides to bestow regulatory clearance on the database powerhouse’s $7.4-billion acquisition. We’ll know more about the EC’s intentions when, or shortly after, it meets on September 3. If the EC chooses to investigate further before giving its kind blessings, Oracle might have to wait an additional four months before knowing whether it can take its Java (and JAVA) prize home to Redwoood Shores.

To be sure, Java is one of the issues of concern to the European regulators. There Java concerns, some of which have been fomented by Oracle rivals, relate to Oracle’s potential stewardship of Java and the Java community. Another area of European regulatory interest is the database market and Oracle’s plans for the open-source MySQL database software.

The smart money — well, smarter than mine — is suggesting that the European bureaucrats will give Oracle the all-clear signal on September 3. Oracle is believed to have given strong indications that it will be a responsible and responsive custodian of Java. It also is thought to have signaled its intention to keep MySQL alive, taking it into markets and customer engagements that Oracle does not capture today with its flagship database.

The fate of Sun’s hardware, though not a regulatory concern. will be closely noted by many interested parties, Sun’s server customers among them.

Just after the acquisition was announced, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison indicated that he planned to keep Sun’s server hardware within the Oracle fold, going so far as to suggest that he had ideas about how it could be extended and enhanced in combination with Oracle software. Now, though, the betting line has shifted, with increasing speculation that Oracle will sell Sun’s hardware, perhaps to HP.

If HP acquired Sun’s hardware from Oracle, the regulators might find themselves conducting a different set of due-diligence investigations.

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