by Bernard Golden

Oracle: A Linux Distributor?

Apr 19, 20063 mins

There’s been lots of discussion the past two days about Larry Ellison’s interview in the Financial Times that Oracle might consider releasing its own Linux distribution, either home-grown or via acquisition of an already-existing distribution. (Read more about his statements here).

The motive for this potential Oracle Linux distro is the acquisition of JBoss by Red Hat. Ellison’s thinking, it appears, is that if Red Hat is providing a software stack ranging from OS up to app server (and perhaps adding a database in the future), then Oracle should do the same thing by adding an OS to its existing database and app server product stack. 

Speculation about potential acquisition targets for Oracle were all over the map. The potential for Novell was widely discussed as in the article linked to in the previous paragraph; another candidate offered up by Richard Monson-Haefel of the Burton Group was Ubuntu.

Another view of a potential Oracle’s acquisition was that it might swoop down on a merger-challenged Red Hat itself.

Frankly, I don’t see it happening. While the knee-jerk response might be that if Red Hat is doing something, Oracle should do it too, I don’t think Oracle offering a Linux distro of its own makes any sense at all, for the following reasons:

  1. Ellison is just blowing smoke. He reminds me of another larger-than-life Bay Area figure, Barry Bonds. One day Bonds announces he’s going to retire, the next he says he’s going to play for another three years. When asked to explain his statements, he responds “Even I don’t believe half the stuff I say.” Anyone who went through the Larry Ellison Network Computer runaround knows that he pops off about things he has no intention of doing.
  2. What would be the purpose of Oracle doing a Linux distribution? It never did its own Unix distribution, so what makes Linux different? There’s a reason Red Hat and SUSE are the leaders in enterprise deployments — they have the largest proportion of applications certified to run on them. An Oracle distribution would have one very important app certified — Oracle — and then would have to start the slog to convince ISVs to certify on another Linux distro. Does Oracle really want to get into that just so that it can claim parity with Red Hat?

  3. Linux is a great platform for Oracle products, but would be a terrible Oracle product. Ellison himself noted that he was uncomfortable with the notion of buying an open source company because the value of the company resides in the brand and the employees; in other words, it resides not in a walled garden of intellectual property, but in the value the company delivers to its customers. There is far less lock-in with open source products; if a customer doesn’t like what the provider is doing, it can just take the source code and sever the commercial relationship. I’m not sure Oracle wants a business relationship in which the customer has the upper hand.

So, to my mind, Oracle is extremely unlikely to release a Linux distribution. Oracle has always succeeded by charting its own course — and releasing an Oracle-branded distro would be a response to Red Hat rather than a considered strategy. I’m not holding my breath.