Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oracle plays hardball with Linux support

Oracle just threw a monkey-wrench into the Linux machine shop. It announced last week at its user conference that it will take Red Hat's distribution of Linux, remove Red Hat's trademarks, and begin maintaining the product under a support agreement for about half the price of what Red Hat charges.

Oracle is touting its new offering, dubbed Unbreakable Linux, as a way to increase the enterprise-class status of Linux. "Oracle's Unbreakable Linux program is available to all Linux users for as low as $99 per system per year," said Oracle co-President Charles Phillips in Oracle's press release. "You do not have to be a user of Oracle software to qualify. This is all about broadening the success of Linux. To get Oracle support for Red Hat Linux all you have to do is point your Red Hat server to the Oracle network. The switch takes less than a minute."

What's striking in Oracle's press release is how many other parties are quoted as positive about Oracle's move. Oracle got Dell, Intel, HP, IBM, Accenture, AMD, Bearing Point, EMC, BMC, and NetApp all to say good things about Oracle's decision. Some of them that have their own Linux support services, such as HP and IBM, are caught between maintaining their relationship with Oracle and building their own Linux businesses.

Red Hat is in a really tough position, with its stock plunging 24% on the news. It responded on its website, with a FAQ entitled "Unfakeable Linux," in which it points out deficiencies and incompatibilities in Oracle's offering, specifically Oracle's lack of support for Red Hat and JBoss applications, as well has potential hardware, software, and other incompatibilities between Oracle and Red Hat Linux. (Red Hat's website is extremely slow today, probably because of all the hits it is getting from the Linux community on this FAQ.)

As usual, the most insightful commentary is on Slashdot, if you can find it. For example, "Korgan" writes...
Actually, the whole reason they're doing this is because they're pissed off with Red Hat for buying JBoss when Oracle wanted it.

I kid you not. Search Google for comments from Larry just after Red Hat made the purchase and you'll see why.

This is just continuing that. Oracle at the time said they were considering their own Linux distro in an attempt to compete with Redhat. To paraphrase Ellison...

If Redhat are going to step on our toes, we'll stomp on theirs

This isn't going to make any real difference to Redhat in the long term. Oracle would be smart to position their distro as the best possible platform for their own primary products (such as the databases, ERP software and so on.) However, the chances of that are pretty slim.

Given Oracle just recently released a mammoth patch for their 9i and 11i products that, while containing more than 100 bug fixes, didn't manage to fix all known bugs, I seriously doubt they're in any way prepared to take on the responsibility of a full fledged Enterprise ready Operating System. This is going to kick them hard.
Although I think this may overstate Oracle's motives, I don't think it is far off. It wouldn't surprise me at all, now, if Oracle's intention is to drive down Red Hat's stock price and ultimately be able to buy Red Hat along with its recent JBoss acquisition.

That would allow Oracle to own the entire technology stack, from operating system through database and middleware, all the way to enterprise applications.

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