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Oracle’s Red Hat rip-off

October 25th, 2006 · No Comments

No one saw this coming. People talked about Oracle making its own Linux, or buying a Linux company (Ubuntu?). But, the news that Oracle is erasing Red Hat’s trademarks from Unbreakable Linux and supporting it for less than Red Hat is a bolt from the blue.

Or, perhaps, I should say that Oracle is firing a shot at the heart of Red Hat, and commercial Linux?

This really, really ticks me off.

Oracle’s claims as to why it felt it had to make this move are BS.

The Oracle press release reads, “Red Hat only provides bug fixes for the latest version of its software. This often requires customers to upgrade to a new version of Linux software to get a bug fixed. Oracle’s new Unbreakable Linux program will provide bug fixes to future, current, and back releases of Linux. In other words, Oracle will provide the same level of enterprise support for Linux as is available for other operating systems.”

First, no one supports their obsolete operating systems. Want to get support for Windows NT? 2000? 98!? Good luck! In any case, with RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), you simply get the next version as part of your contract. No one has to stay with RHEL 3 unless they want to.

This also implies that bugs aren’t fixed in RHEL. Again, this is nonsense, Red Hat’s innovative RHN (Red Hat Network), which you also get with the aforementioned contract, makes sure that any RHEL bugs are repaired as fast as Red Hat, and the open-source community, can fix them.

This isn’t Oracle where important software bugs can stay unfixed for months. Oh wait, that’s right! This is Oracle, which just released a mega-patch of more than 100 bugs for its existing lines. And, as Cesar Cerrudo, CEO of Argeniss, a database security research company, said of this patch of patches: “What’s amazing is there are still a lot of unpatched vulnerabilities, even after this big batch.”

Here’s the truth of the matter. Red Hat does a darn good job of supporting its Linux, and charges a fair price for it.

Oracle, however, can afford to undercut Red Hat’s support prices, which puts the Linux giant in a very precarious position. The lion’s share of Red Hat’s business is far from just the enterprise database customers that make Oracle its billions, but the enterprise has increasingly been an important part of Red Hat’s income.

In short, this move hurts Red Hat a lot. In fact, I think Red Hat would have been better off if Oracle had started its own Linux, or bought Ubuntu or some other company. In either case, Oracle would have had to fight to win Linux market share even from its own customers. With this move, Oracle simply rips off Red Hat’s mind-share, while promising a cheaper price.

For all that many of Linux’s major corporate friends, like HP and IBM, had nice things to say about Oracle’s move, I really wonder if they’ve thought this through.

By doing this, Oracle not only wounds Red Hat, it serves notice to all the Linux businesses — Novell, Mandriva, Linspire, etc. — that a giant company can come along, and sweep their work and business plan away from them in a minute.

With this move, every Linux company is going to have to take a long, hard look at its business plans. Now, Red Hat and company may well survive this. As I have said earlier, it’s not like anyone really believes that Oracle does a good job at patching its own software.

For all that, Oracle does have the personnel it needs to support, and yes, advance Linux. Still, I don’t think this move is good for Linux in general.

If you were a Linux developer, would you really want to work for the benefit of Oracle? It was one thing when your work might be used by any number of companies — some enormous, like IBM, and others in a garage down the street — but the Oracle move changes the balance of the Linux business.

IBM, historically, I always thought, took a very sensible approach to Linux. It supported it, but (SCO’s nonsense claims to the side) has never distributed or really done much work on it. They let the Red Hats and Novell/SUSEs of the world do the work. It was a great deal for IBM. Someone else does the heavy-lifting; they get to reap the benefits with their services and hardware sales. At the same time, IBM’s blessing gave the Linux businesses the impetus they needed to get into businesses large and small.

Oracle, while claiming that it’s not a distributor, that it’s just “supporting” Unbreakable Linux, is now in the operating system business. If you’re Sun, Microsoft, Novell, etc., do you still want to be their partner? For now, Oracle says that it’ll support all its operating system partners, but can you bank on that? I sure don’t think I could.

That reminds me, Oracle states that it’ll distribute Unbreakable Linux binaries, but doesn’t mention distributing the source code. I wonder if the company fully realizes that it’ll have to provide it to every one who asks for it? Even if all Oracle did was remove Red Hat’s trademarks, it would still have be obligated to supply all the code. Warren Woodford of MEPIS can tell Larry Ellison all about how that works. In any case, since Oracle claims it’ll be issuing its own bug fixes, this is a lot more than pulling out “Red Hat” and getting rid of red fedora images.

Then, of course, someone else — Microsoft? Sun? — can start releasing “Doubly Unbreakable Linux” for a half of Oracle’s support price. Won’t Oracle just love that?

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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