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Microsoft, Oracle Trade Salvos in the Battle of Linux

Both Microsoft and Oracle have now embraced Linux. What does that mean for you?

Recent events in the Linux world make soap operas look relatively tame. Oracle is now in the Linux support business and Microsoft, publicly conceding the importance of Linux, has entered into a strong partnership with a Linux vendor. What gives?

First event: Instead of acquiring a Linux vendor in order to offer its own Linux distribution as some had predicted (and which I had previously speculated would only make sense if Oracle buried it deeply inside of an Oracle database appliance), Oracle simply decided to support someone else’s version, Red Hat’s. Not only that, but Oracle claims that it will price its support lower than what Red Hat charges and that it will port its bug fixes to prior distribution versions.

Oracle is doing this under its “unbreakable Linux” banner for the Oracle database on Linux. At the very least, it will place Oracle in the position of taking all the glory, or receiving all the blame, for any Oracle on Red Hat Linux issues. Contrary to the popular belief that Oracle is engaging in warfare with Red Hat over Linux support revenue, or perhaps seeking vengeance over Red Hat’s acquisition of JBoss, I suspect that the real target is Microsoft and its Windows platforms. After all, an Oracle sale of Oracle on Linux to SMB (small to medium business) organizations is, in many cases, a win over Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Windows.

One issue with Oracle’s plan to offer formal support for Red Hat Linux, in particular its intention to port new fixes to prior distributions, is that it could result in multiple versions of prior Red Hat distributions and lead to divergent or “forked” distributions. Will vendors that utilize Red Hat Linux now need to qualify their offerings as to whether it is “Red Hat” Red Hat, or “Oracle” Red Hat? Only time will tell, but this is certainly something the Linux community needs to consider.

Second event: Microsoft entered the Linux game in an agreement with Novell in which Microsoft will recommend Suse Linux Enterprise to Windows customers who can’t be convinced to remain in a pure Windows world and who want to utilize both Windows and Linux platforms. Microsoft and Novell will indemnify each other’s customers against possible patent violations while working together to improve interoperability and virtualization between their respective products. (Since Microsoft already offers Office for Macintosh, will it someday also offer Office for Linux?). Since Microsoft has committed to buying 70,000 Suse support coupons per year from Novell to give to joint customers (and thus discourage them from utilizing non-Suse Linux distributions), Microsoft is certainly serious about its partnership with Novell and has signed on for a three-year exclusive relationship.

Microsoft recognizes that many organizations wish to view the world not just through Windows and that Linux is one of the most likely operating system alternatives. Microsoft is taking an “if you can’t beat ‘em, at least try to maintain some control over the outcome” attitude. In addition, by teaming with Novell rather than Red Hat, Microsoft is also endorsing Suse rather than the Red Hat (or Oracle/Red Hat) Linux distribution that Oracle has embraced. If Microsoft’s customers are going to deploy Linux, Microsoft certainly doesn’t want them to select the one from which Oracle could potentially derive revenue!

These two events demonstrate the continuing importance of Linux and the desire of major vendors to embrace it in order to augment (or perhaps protect) their revenue streams. Organizations deploying both Windows and Linux should certainly consider the Microsoft / Novell partnership as a positive, especially if they chose to deploy Suse. Unfortunately for Red Hat, it now finds itself in the position of having some of its support revenue diverted to Oracle while Microsoft endorses and partners with one of its competitors.

About the Author

Michael A. Schiff is founder and principal analyst of MAS Strategies, which specializes in formulating effective data warehousing strategies. With more than four decades of industry experience as a developer, user, consultant, vendor, and industry analyst, Mike is an expert in developing, marketing, and implementing solutions that transform operational data into useful decision-enabling information.

His prior experience as an IT director and systems and programming manager provide him with a thorough understanding of the technical, business, and political issues that must be addressed for any successful implementation. With Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from MIT's Sloan School of Management and as a certified financial planner, Mike can address both the technical and financial aspects of data warehousing and business intelligence.

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