Just a couple months ago, Oracle's 2010 edition of OpenWorld\u2014its annual tech gathering kicking off Sept. 19 in San Francisco\u2014might have been a tad lacking in the "intrigue" department. \n\nSure, there'd be scores of Oracle product announcements on Exadata database machines, news for the Sun-Java development crowd, and more information on the long-awaited Fusion Applications Suite. \n\nAnd of course, there's always CEO Larry Ellison's quotable excoriations of the competition, as well as a bevy of customer and partner testimonials with those semi-contrived awards ceremonies. \n\nAll pretty much what one would expect. \n\nThen came the Oracle hire 'hurd' 'round the world on Sept. 6th. Oracle proudly announced that former HP CEO Mark Hurd was joining Oracle as co-CEO\u2014and, as almost a footnote, that former co-CEO Charles Phillips was "retiring." \n\nTalk of lawsuits ensued. Tempers flared publicly. And all of those once rock-solid partnerships between Oracle and HP\u2014a DIAMOND sponsor of the OpenWorld, no less\u2014just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting to consider. \n\nThe Main Event will be Ann Livermore's keynote address on Sunday. The EVP of HP's enterprise business is scheduled to talk about this: "Leverage IT to Create Business Advantage from Your Datacenter to the Cloud." Will she venture anywhere near how the Hurd situation has impacted the HP-Oracle relationship going forward? Will she even mention the word "Hurd"? It's sure to be great theater. \n\nHurd is scheduled to offer his keynote the day after Livermore's, which nixes any opportunity for a chance encounter back stage between ex-colleagues Hurd and Livermore. (That meeting would be more awkward than a Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie run-in backstage at the Oscars.) \n\nNow that Oracle is attempting to be the next-generation IBM, it'll be fascinating to watch who else Ellison & Co. targets as top competitors. The potential list is vast, spanning a couple of different industry segments: IBM is going on the offensive already, and HP will likely be in Oracle's cross-hairs. Then there's SAP, in the enterprise software space, which will surely get some of Oracle's ire; perhaps some shots at Teradata are in order; and finally there's Salesforce.com and the brood of cloud vendors nipping at Oracle's heels. \n\nHow Oracle executives position the company and what technology roadmaps they offer customers will be key. In other words, they need to prove to customers why "Software. Hardware. Complete." is a sound strategy\u2014and for good reasons other than "just because Oracle says so." (Read Josh Greenbaum's post "Is Oracle An Apps Company that Sells Hardware, or a Hardware Company that Dabbles in Apps?" for more.) \n\nIn the applications space, one has to look no further than SAP's consistent and clear messaging at Sapphire 2010 to see just how valuable that can be. \n\nAll of its customers know Oracle is going to acquire more vendors to grow its product portfolios and customers bases. Which ones they will purchase is pure speculation right now. Customers also know that Hurd has arrived\u2014but how will his presence affect R&D, innovation and partnerships going forward? \n\nThose Oracle customers traveling to OpenWorld 2010 are looking to go inside Oracle's innerworkings, prod execs on the strategic direction and ask some important questions. But will Oracle have the answers customers want to hear? \n\n Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at email@example.com.