Enterprise Unix Roundup: Larry Wants Some Linux
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We were still pondering the impact of Red Hat's pending acquisition of JBoss and mulling over its possible ramifications for Novell, when the latest rumor in Linuxland surfaced: Oracle will buy Novell.
And if not Novell, some other Linux vendor will soon find its headquarters shifted to Redwood Shores, Calif. Later, it emerged that if Oracle didn't buy a distro it would build its own, a move that has many in the community crying foul.
We were, as usual, skeptical. Often the loudest rumors yield the least truth. Acquisition announcements on that scale (read: Red Hat/JBoss) generally appear at first blush out of left field. Later, when the analysts and pundits have weighed in, they seem synergistically obvious.
But since the speculation here was sparked by none other than Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, we took careful notice, and will indulge our inner novelist on the speculation. What would such a move mean for the bourgeoning open source software industry, and what would be its impact on Linux?
In an interview published Monday in the Financial Times, Ellison said he wanted Oracle to sell a full stack of software ranging from operating system to applications. He noted Microsoft as an example to be emulated, a tone-death choice if he'd hoped to win over reluctant penguin fans.
"I'd like to have a complete stack," he said. "We're missing an operating system. You could argue that it makes a lot of sense for us to look at distributing and supporting Linux."
Yes, it does. But Oracle already does support Linux. Its flagship database has been available on Linux since 1998. It also owns a large stake in Asianux.
We won't hold it against you if you haven't heard of Asianux. We weren't too familiar with it either until this week. Asianux is a Linux distro co-developed by the Chinese Linux vendor, Red Flag Software; the Japanese Linux vendor, Miracle Linux Corporation; and the Korean Linux software vendor, Haansoft. Its goal, like the ill-fated UnitedLinux, is to be the common enterprise-grade Linux platform in Asia.
Currently, Oracle Corporation Japan holds a 50.5 percent stake in the Miracle Linux. So its already got a horse in the race.
We suppose slowly growing a Linux distro it already owns makes a less splashy story than purchasing one, and Ellison supplied that anecdote as well. According to the FT, "As part of a recent study of the open source software market, Mr Ellison said that Oracle had considered buying Novell, which after Red Hat is the biggest distributor of Linux. 'We look at everything, play this thing out,' he added."
And boy did it garner speculation. Perhaps so much that by Tuesday, Ellison was singing a slightly different tune to the FT. In a follow-up article, he noted several reasons "why the database software company should embed a version of Linux into its existing software." That would be Red Hat Linux.
We suspect Ellison's grandstanding has more to do with the hangover of the JBoss/Red Hat announcement. Red Hat was, after all, Oracle's Linux distro of choice and the software was optimized for Red Hat. With JBoss now part of Red Hat, Oracle is effectively partnered with a key competitor.
We are a bit perplexed though by Ellison's interpretation of certain dynamics. The stack itself, for example. While we agree there is value to a stack, from a user enterprise perspective, true value comes from being able to choose the components that go into the stack. This is a one reason why Linux and open source has been as successful as it has. It makes it easy to pick, choose, and most of all modify the components that best meet an organization's needs, as opposed to the Microsoft model of being locked in and dependent on the ISV from the operating system up.
Simply being an alternative to Microsoft is not a value proposition, especially if it results in vendor lock-in.
Ellison states, "I don't believe Oracle and IBM want another Microsoft in Red Hat," but it doesn't seem like he has any objection to Oracle evolving into another Microsoft.
We suspect none of this will play well with the Linux community, but we question how much this matters now that Linux has broken the glass ceiling of mission-critical systems.
If we were in Ellison's position, we'd thumb our nose at Red Hat, partner deeply with Novell, and push Oracle on Asianux like mad in an untapped region where Red Hat has barely any mindshare or penetration.