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Jeff Gould: "Oracle to Red Hat: It’s Not Your Father’s Linux Market Anym

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Jeff Gould: "Oracle to Red Hat: It’s Not Your Father’s Linux Market Anymore"
Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2010 16:04:12 -0000

Interesting article...

"Oracle to Red Hat: It’s Not Your Father’s Linux Market Anymore

October 19, 2010

Analysis by: Jeff Gould


Oracle is having a new go at Red Hat. But this time, instead of a RHEL
clone, it’s offering an improved version of Linux designed to optimize
the performance of its own hardware and software. Although it won’t deal
a knockout blow to Red Hat, Oracle’s Linux will certainly take share in
the large Oracle database, middleware and application installed bases
(and may further marginalize Suse). Like Google’s Android, it suggests
that Linux is beginning to fragment in the same way that Unix did.


Ellison takes aim at Red Hat, again

You have all undoubtedly heard the news that Oracle launched its own
branch of the Linux kernel a few weeks ago. Oracle’s new Linux goes a
step further than the Red Hat clone it announced back in 2006 – Oracle
is now departing from a strict copy of RHEL by adding its own features
specifically designed to enhance the performance of Oracle brand
hardware and software. Since Oracle ranks a close second to Microsoft as
the world’s least popular software company among open source fans, it’s
not surprising that Larry Ellison’s big announcement has so far met with
some skepticism in the Linux community. But everyone knows Larry doesn’t
give a pile of radioactive marsupial pucky what the open source
community thinks about anything, let alone Oracle Linux. If truth be
told, it’s not always evident that the management of Red Hat cares much
either, but they at least are obliged by the firm’s open source history
to at least pretend they care. After Larry’s brutal takedown of Red
Hat’s ubercautious RHEL update policies (“We can't afford to be four
years behind on the mainline of Linux”, dixit Larry), Red Hat responded
with a press release that struck the tone of a matronly aristocrat
affronted by the uncouth antics of some money-grubbing interloper trying
to snatch the string of pearls from her neck:

“With Red Hat Enterprise Linux, we continue to provide an
industry-leading application platform, all based on open source
technology, designed with the goal that end customers are and should
continue to be the largest benefactors of Red Hat and our product
offerings… Of course, with this unique open source operating model and
leadership position comes competitors, challenging us and wanting to
draw from our success. In response, we believe that our unique value and
truly open position continues to be the sound choice for enterprise
customers who seek lasting value in their IT investments – especially
when compared to competitors who selectively open their offerings while
seeking to lock in their customers.”
Non-proprietary Linux is a myth

Larry’s trash talking of Red Hat’s update policies is a bit of a low
blow considering that RHEL 5 is nearing the end of its life and RHEL 6
is only months away. But still, there can be no doubt that Ellison has
identified a chink in Red Hat’s armor, and he is hammering away at it
without mercy. The heart of the problem is that commercial Linux
distributors have until now made two perfectly incompatible claims about
their product: first, that because of its open source status Linux is a
non-proprietary product that “belongs to everyone”, and second, that it
is possible for non-proprietary products that belong to no one to
nevertheless achieve competitive differentiation.

But the non-proprietary nature of Linux distributions is a myth. Clearly
RHEL is a proprietary product, and the whole basis for Red Hat’s
existence as a profit-making corporation whose shares are traded on the
stock market is the claim that it can provide a better Linux than the
competition. And don’t think that the differentiation comes only from
services. No, it comes from the code itself. Every major Linux distro
differentiates itself by way of thousands of vendor-specific patches
whose purpose is to make their distro “better” than the competitors in
ways that will be meaningful to the subset of Linux users who are
willing to pay actual money for their bits. Red Hat, Suse and Ubuntu all
do it. True, these distros have not yet diverged as radically as the
vendor-specific flavors of Unix did in the 1990s. And the fact that
these patches are all faithfully GPL’d allows Novell and Oracle to
support Red Hat’s version of Linux as well as their own. But this
doesn’t change the fact that these distros embody competitive
differentiation strategies that are no different in kind from those
embodied in traditional closed source software such as Oracle’s 11g
database or Microsoft Windows.

If you think that calling RHEL “proprietary” is just a figure of speech,
think again. While Red Hat may tolerate CentOS and other cloners
(provided that they strip out Red Hat trademarks), it does not approve
of customers who want to use genuine RHEL without paying for it. A
recent Red Hat marketing newsletter sternly instructs Red Hat channel
partners that customers who choose not to renew their RHEL subscriptions
“must de-install Red Hat Enterprise Linux software from the servers with
the expired subscriptions”. GPL fans will point out that this injunction
is mere table-pounding intimidation that has no legal force, but that’s
beside the point. As far as Red Hat is concerned, no one is entitled to
use RHEL without paying for it, and they’re not shy about letting people
know where they stand.
Ellison is changing the rules of the Linux game

What Larry has done is call the commercial Linux distributors’ bluff.
He’s telling them he’s not going to play by their make-nice rules, which
he knows are just camouflage for traditional proprietary software
strategies. Instead, he’s going to put his own features into the Linux
kernel, features that are nakedly intended to favor Oracle’s own
software and hardware. From now on Oracle will work on a faster update
schedule than Red Hat or Suse, cherry picking new features it likes from
the upstream Linux community or – when it doesn’t find what it wants –
creating its own. It will be up to the community (i.e. Linus and
friends) and the other distributors to decide when or whether they want
to accept Oracle’s contributions. But you can bet that Larry will not be
shedding any tears if Oracle’s latest set of Linux enhancements (like
improved performance on Oracle’s latest Exadata servers, faster
networking, and better storage access) fail to make it into RHEL 6.
Oracle’s self-serving approach to the rules of open source isn’t really
so different from the game Red Hat, IBM, Novell and other big Linux
kernel contributors have played for years. These vendors have always
focused their contributions on features they thought would result in
downstream profits for themselves. And there's nothing wrong with that,
provided you don't mind a little hypocrisy with your open source
propaganda. The only thing that’s new is that Larry is short circuiting
the usual process by which new features make their way into Linux and
its various distros. He’s doing exactly the same end-run around the
upstream community and his competitors that Google did with the de facto
Linux kernel fork that runs Android.
Until now Linux has been a gentlemanly cartel whose members pretended to
sacrifice some immediate self-interest in order to benefit the community
as a whole, while jockeying ferociously for competitive advantage behind
the scenes. Now Johnny-come-latelies like Oracle and Google have torn
off their masks and dared the other players to do likewise. Linux has
been propagandized for years as the next Unix, the “good” Unix that
would leverage the noble democratic principles of open source to avoid
the proprietary pitfalls of AIX vs. Solaris vs. HP-UX and all the other
now forgotten exemplars of “bad” vendor-exclusive Unix. But Larry
Ellison and the Google kids have served notice that things aren’t going
to work out that way. Having understood that the GPL open source license
that governs Linux is only a fig leaf, they’ve discovered that there is
nothing to prevent them from rolling their own de facto private versions
of Linux while still respecting the letter of the open source law.
It will be interesting to see how Red Hat, Suse, IBM and the other
stakeholders in official Linux respond. These enterprise players aren’t
really threatened by Android, at least not yet. But Oracle has got to be
scaring them. True, Larry isn’t trying to steal share away from RHEL or
SLES in the broader Linux market. Oracle’s 5,500 Linux customers amount
to only a tiny fraction of Red Hat’s customer base. But they also amount
to a similarly tiny fraction of Oracle’s database, middleware and
applications customer base, and those are the people he cares about.
He’s willing to cede the commodity Linux business of firewalls and file
servers and web servers to others, but he wants to take back ownership
of the stack in the Oracle installed base. Depending on how far he gets
with that agenda, he could do some real damage to the established Linux

Analyses are solely the work of the authors and have not been edited or
endorsed by GLG.

Request a Consultation with Jeff Gould"


"Plaintiff Erik Andersen is a work-from-home father who has gifted 
to the world software underlying a significant body of consumer
electronics." ROFL
                     -- SFLC crooks Ravicher, Williamson, Spiegel
(GNG is a derecursive recursive derecursion which pwns GNU since it can 
be infinitely looped as GNGNGNGNG...NGNGNG... and can be said backwards 
too, whereas GNU cannot.)

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