In January 2010, Oracle completed its purchase of Sun Microsystems. In November 2010, Attachmate entered into an agreement to acquire Novell, simultaneously spinning off hundreds of software patents to Microsoft.

Two of the old-guard companies have fallen. Novell blazed the trail of modern enterprise computing, as its NetWare-based file and print servers pushed IT out of the glass house and into the line-of-business department. Sun was at the heart of the Dot-Com revolution, as its powerful servers bolstered startups and its Java language juiced the logic behind the n-tiered architecture.

When Oracle bought Sun, many of us feared the worst. Oracle was the anti-Sun: closed, focused on the bottom line, a fierce competitor. Sun’s influence came from its research labs; Oracle’s was centered on its tremendous cash reserves. Fortunately, Oracle has—so far—been a good steward of Sun’s important technologies.

Attachmate’s purchase of Novell poses many questions. What will become of SUSE Linux? What’s going to happen with the Mono project? Which patents did Microsoft purchase, and why? What will Attachmate’s ownership of Unix mean for the ongoing SCO Group soap opera? We’ll learn the answers to those questions over the next few months.

As we end the year 2010, let us stop and consider the new landscape. A decade ago, Microsoft and IBM were the biggest players in enterprise software development. Sun played a very important role. Oracle, while a household name, was mainly a database giant with a penchant for big acquisitions, mainly in enterprise applications.

Today, while Microsoft and IBM are unquestionably powerful (half our universe builds server-side software on .NET, and IBM’s servers and tools are ubiquitous), industry leadership isn’t coming from either Redmond or Armonk. Instead, we watch to see what Oracle is doing. And Google, which used to be a search engine. And Apple, which used to make computers for artists. And Amazon, which sold books. And Hewlett-Packard, which wasn’t even in this business a few years ago, but instead sold hardware, like servers, laptops and printers.

The world continues to change. Happy New Year.

The long tail of open source
Ask an IT professional to name some important open-source software projects, and you’re likely to hear Linux. The Apache HTTP server. MySQL. Eclipse. Mozilla. OpenOffice. NetBeans. After a few more names, the list will sputter out.

However, the power of open-source software—and certainly its innovation—isn’t limited to those few stars. While we all fawn over the latest Linux kernel or the newest transaction engine for MySQL, there are thousands of other, smaller open-source projects that save developers, IT pros and consumers time and money every day.

As 2011 bears down upon us, perhaps it is a good time to reflect upon all the little projects that make life bearable in corporate software. Projects like Ant and Maven, which focus on fixing all the dependency problems in Java. Or projects like libcloud, which gives Python developers access to the features inside Amazon Web Services and Rackspace’s hosting environments.

While Linux gets the lion’s share of attention, it is these smaller projects that truly save the day. When you’re up against it and having trouble reading in those complex X-ray images, it will be Endrov or 3D Slicer that come to the rescue.

Perhaps the greatest thing about open source is that, no matter how strange the use case, you can probably find someone else who’s done the work already and is happy to share the code in the hopes of building a community, putting more eyes on the bugs, or even getting contributors to add some new features. Even if they’re only sharing it with three other users worldwide, at least those few users don’t have to reinvent the wheel.