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Is Oracle Microsoft/Novell's Worst Enemy, Not Red Hat's?

Letting two gorillas fight rather than relying on guerrilla

Oracle has been a quiet (yet giant) GNU/Linux user and vendor. We had it mentioned in the context of Novell and Microsoft recently. Given Oracle's membership in OIN, is it truly an enemy of the spirit of Free software? Arguments can be made which support both sides; one side says that Oracle will protect Linux and another says that Oracle will destroy, crush, and even steal Linux from its parents and origins.

NovellsoftThe main victim which is repeatedly mentioned in this context is Red Hat, whose product Oracle uses (some would say "rips off"). But what about Novell? Yesterday, the following article appeared in ComputerWorld and contained an interesting bit.

He noted that Burlington Coat Factory is also evaluating whether to replace its SUSE Linux software with Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux implementation, which would give the company another reason to use Oracle VM.


Therein lie some interesting possibilities. Several weeks ago, another article was published to say that Oracle's goal with Linux may be to eliminate a Windows (Microsoft) dependency and basically weaken this beast which is known as the "Microsoft ecosystem", of which Novell seems to have become a part.

Thus, a win for Linux is a win for Oracle as it immediately eliminates SQL Server, Exchange, and Visual Studio from the equation and increases the likelihood that a customer will choose Oracle software, Aslett said.

That's true regardless of whether customers choose Oracle Unbreakable Linux – or Red Hat.


Ellison's hatred (or jealousy) of Microsoft is nothing new. Watch this video for some more visual evidence.



Of course, it would still be silly to assume that Ellison and Oracle have become friends of Free software. As Matt Asay shrewdly pointed out a fortnight ago:

Larry doesn't understand open source. This isn't surprising since the people who report to him apparently don't, either (though I don't include Mike Olson in that crowd - he's a victim of golden handcuffs :-). Oracle desperately wants open source to be "just another tool" that it uses for IT domination. It's not. It actually has the opposite effect.

Oracle just can't grok this.

It wants to own the Linux kernel. It can't. It wanted to own JBoss. It couldn't. Open source is about controlling through sharing, but Oracle doesn't do the "share" thing very well.

And so we'll have to sporadically endure Mr. Ellison's ego pronouncing himself god of the Linux world, despite his Linux business being so anemic that he won't break out its numbers. If the numbers are so great, report them, Mr. Ellison. (Having said this, it's important to note that Oracle stopped breaking out revenue by product line many years ago.)


To put things in perspective, consider the following half a dozen recent articles as well:

1. Ellison: 'Fusion Must Coexist'

Ellison also acknowledged Red Hat's growth in "a healthy market" for both companies. "We're also doing something Red Hat isn't, which is shipping Oracle VM underneath our Linux offering so there is a single stack of code. If you have applications that run on Red Hat, it will run unchanged on Oracle's enterprise software."


2. Larry Ellison thrashes Red Hat

"At Oracle we've been in the Linux business for a year now," he said.

"With the Red Hat code all we did for the first year was fix bugs. Now Oracle growing a lot faster than Red Hat. Red Hat's been growing too because it’s a growing market."


3. OpenWorld: 1,500 companies adopt Oracle Unbreakable Linux

Despite Oracle's fast growth, Red Hat remains the top dog in the enterprise Linux market, with tens of thousands of subscribers to its support business. During its Q1 2008 call with analysts, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said it added "multiple of thousands of customers" in that quarter alone.


4. Ellison touts Fusion Applications

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison didn't display much of his traditional flamboyance Wednesday at Oracle's OpenWorld conference, but he did preview the company's next-generation Fusion Applications and said its Unbreakable Linux offering has met with initial success.


5. OpenWorld: Oracle restricting app support to its own virtualization

Buried under the surface of Oracle Corp.'s Monday announcement that it plans to get into the virtualization market is the fact that the company won't support its database and many other applications if they are running on virtualization software from VMware Inc., Microsoft Corp. or even Red Hat Inc.

That effectively limits enterprise users who want to run their Oracle applications more efficiently through virtualization to just one platform: Oracle's new VM.


6. Oracle's mixed messages on "compatibility" with Red Hat Enterprise Linux

No offense, Oracle, but if it looks like a fork, smells like a fork, and acts like a fork, it's a fork, and "fully compatible" is simply not a credible guarantee. You can't change someone else's code and crown it "fully compatible."


Taking all the above into consideration, it seems fair to say that Red Hat is snubbed by Oracle, but the compatibility limits (artificial they might as well be) are bad news to Novell as well. In the long term, despite Oracle's denial, it is expected that Oracle will go its own way and create its own, fairly independent Linux distributions. Articles to watch out for include:

1. Oracle's got a giant Red Hat fork coming, says spaceman

Oracle's assault on Linux looks to take the shape of a fork in the near future, according to Canonical founder and Ubuntu chief Mark Shuttleworth.


2. Is Unbreakable a long-term Linux play?

After initial cynicism I have been forced to rethink my opinion on a couple of occassions, notably Oracle's patent pledge, the naming of customers and the naming of partners, although I remain unconvinced that OEL is a long-term strategy for the company as opposed to an attempt to disrupt the market.

Linux is clearly a long-term commitment. Oracle Enterprise Linux? Not sure.


3. Ubuntu chief: Oracle Linux has 'tactical value'

Oracle has the ability to support Linux, and doing so could have "tactical value" for the database company, the founder of Ubuntu Linux--and a potential Oracle partner--said Friday.


4. Shuttleworth: Oracle-Ubuntu partnership only a matter of time

Canonical Ltd. CEO Mark Shuttleworth said a partnership with Oracle is no longer a matter of if, but when.


5. Oracle claims no Linux ulterior motive

Oracle is using LinuxWorld to try and calm concerns its Enterprise Linux and Unbreakable Linux Network (ULN) will fork Red Hat and fragment the Linux market.


The impact of Oracle's Linux endeavors on Free software as a whole will be interesting. If Oracle permits Novell's Linux to gain acceptance and receive 'interoperability' (under discriminatory terms), then Oracle lets Microsoft get its way. Oracle has a lot of weight that can stop this, along with giants like IBM and Google, who are also in OIN (essentially as Linux guardians).

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