Even before its bitter battle to take over PeopleSoft, Oracle had a reputation for ruthlessness, thanks to its notoriously heavy-handed sales force and penchant for devouring other companies. So its not surprising Oracles announcement that it will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux and distribute an Oracle-branded clone of RHEL triggered fears of Red Hats demise and Linux fragmentation.
We believe such fears are unfounded. In response to rumors of an impending announcement, we said last week in this space that we would welcome Oracles entry into the Linux market. We still do, although it seemed to us ahead of time that supporting Debian or Ubuntu Linux would have offered Oracle a better chance to carve out its own Linux niche and avoid questions of competition with Red Hat.
But even though Oracle will be supporting RHEL, as Red Hat does, and charging half of what Red Hat charges, the building of RHEL will still be Red Hats province alone, and Red Hat has a chance to demonstrate to customers why that matters. Red Hat could, for instance, give customers a more explicit role in voting on the direction the next version should take, so that having a contract with the maker of the product will mean more.
We think Oracles move will actually help Red Hat by boosting Linuxs already-growing presence in the enterprise. Red Hats own potential market is bound to be expanded by the spread of Linux—and Red Hats own flavor of Linux—thanks to Oracle. And Oracle intends to contribute fixes and customer-reported bugs back to Red Hat—input that can only strengthen RHEL. Further, Oracles joining the Free Standards Group at the highest level of membership is a sign that the company is taking its promise not to fragment Linux seriously.
But Oracle will have to prove its support lives up to the hype. In a CIO Insight survey conducted in 2005, CIOs rated Red Hat No. 1 out of 41 vendors when it comes to value, including flexibility and delivering on promises. Oracle rated ninth out of the top vendors with which companies would stop doing business if they had a choice. In addition, the savings on Linux support will be a drop in the bucket if a customer is running a $200,000 Oracle database on Linux. Finally, making good on its promise to support Linux users who dont run Oracles database will be the most important expression of good faith. It will also be key to expanding the market for Linux in the enterprise.
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