A few months back, Marc Andreessen posited that Oracle was in really big trouble, it just didn’t know it yet (at least not publicly). His experiential reasoning: he invests in lots of companies, and is connected to many many more, and not one of them, without exception, uses Oracle. Everyone uses either MySQL/PostgreSQL (i.e. open source) SQL, or NoSQL Mongo/Couch/etc.
My take on it was the income from support and maintenance versus new license sales. When a software firm reaches the point that the revenue from maintenance equals or exceeds revenue from new sales, essentially the company is on the way down. I was a customer of IBM when VP at a large financial back in 2001-2005, and I clearly recall when IBM’s Tivoli division crossed the 50% mark.
A software – and any – company’s future depends on its ability to sell to new customers. If existing customers are paying the same or more as new ones, then you are having a hard time selling to new customers, and you are on your way down. You may milk the cow for a good few more years, in which, because of reduced R&D investment, your cash may be higher than before, but life is on the way down.
The real pity of it is that Sun was a great company (and great engineering shop with great talent), and likely will go down along with Oracle.