Larry Ellison on the Penguin Prowl

Opinion: Oracle is eyeing Linux companies and distros, but why buy or build when there is software available for free?

Word is that Larry Ellison and Oracle are interested in having a Linux distribution of their very own—a proposition that, in my Opinion, would be of limited value to Oracle.

Building and maintaining your own distribution is a real chore. Just ask Sun Microsystems, which, at one time, was set to offer up its own distro before tossing the project in favor of a SUSE Linux base for its (also since tossed away) Java Desktop System.

However, if Oracle is serious about staking a Linux OS claim, it should forget about buying Red Hat (too costly), Novell (too much baggage) or Mandriva (too obscure). Ive seen Ubuntu mentioned as an option, but Ubuntu and the Debian distribution on which its based are noncommerical beasts—you cant buy what isnt for sale.

Ellison would do well, though, to emulate what Mark Shuttleworth and company have done with Ubuntu, which exploded in popularity because its Debian foundation was already so strong. Oracle could get off to a similarly strong start by beginning with Debian, slapping a new nameplate on it and shaping the distribution to fit Oracles needs.

Whats more, a child distro of Oracle and Debian would pay back real dividends to the Debian project upstream.

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Oracle could build on Fedora or even Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but this strategy would indirectly strengthen Red Hats Linux leadership role. By opting instead to launch a sub-distro of Debian, Oracle would be hitching its fortunes to an entity that couldnt care less about competing with Oracle.

If Ellison truly has his heart set on buying a Linux company, rPath would make a better target than the other Linux outfits Ive mentioned. The young company is chock-full of former high-level Red Hat engineers, and its focused on creating application-centric distributions, rather than general-purpose ones such as Red Hats and Novells.

But, Oracle, keep in mind that were talking about free software here: Theres no sense in buying or building what you can simply take.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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