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LinuxInsider.com

'Unbreakable' vs. 'Unfakeable' Linux Battle Line Drawn

By Jay Lyman
Oct 30, 2006 3:33 PM PT

Oracle has stirred up the tech world with the announcement of its "Unbreakable Linux" strategy. The company's announcement that it will support its own version of Red Hat Linux has already made an impact, as evidenced by Red Hat's quick response under the banner "Unfakeable Linux."

'Unbreakable' vs. 'Unfakeable' Linux Battle Line Drawn

It is still unknown whether Oracle will succeed in undercutting Red Hat to support Linux in enterprise datacenters, but the ramifications of the database giant's big Linux move are likely to be felt far and wide in the industry.

For Red Hat, Oracle's Linux support means a price challenge -- and the outcome should benefit users. Oracle faces a challenge as well; it will have to acclimate itself to the culture of openness in the Linux and open source software world to succeed.

The Oracle offering may be a reason for Linux users to pause and consider their options, which will likely lessen the pace of the operating system's advancement in the enterprise, Gartner Vice President George Weiss told LinuxInsider.

"My bottom line is, this is going to slow Linux down in the short term," he said.

Oracle on Offense

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison signaled last spring that some type of Linux plans were brewing, so last week's announcement of the Unbreakable Linux plan, which uses Red Hat Linux as the basis of an Oracle enterprise offering for Linux support, didn't come as a complete surprise.

While Oracle said it hoped to grow Linux in the enterprise with its move, Weiss indicated the amount of evaluation and testing for software certifications and portability will cause delays as users contemplate a move to Oracle's Linux offering.

Also, the Oracle product launch itself was off to a somewhat rocky start; the company's MetaLink site was down and service consequently was unavailable early this week.

Red Hat's Defense

Oracle's Linux support offering had a clear impact on Red Hat's share price, which dropped more than 15 percent following the news. However, the lower stock price was also being viewed as an opportunity, and shares shot up again more than 5 percent on Monday.

Red Hat's official response to Oracle's less expensive Linux support was its own "Unfakeable Linux" campaign, in which the Linux vendor points to some shortcomings in Oracle's offering. Red Hat also signaled it will not drop its prices in response, standing by its support and certification assurances.

However, a common sentiment in the market is that some competition was needed to control Red Hat's "ability to price with impunity," Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner told LinuxInsider.

"It's really an assault on Red Hat's margins," the analyst said of Oracle's strategy.

The Oracle strategy could cause further anxiety and disruption for Red Hat Linux -- possibly to the benefit of Microsoft, Unix or Novell -- if Red Hat is seen to be suffering financially from it, Weiss observed.

Head to Head, End to End

With customers looking for the best commercial and open source software solutions via subscription -- the model for Red Hat and now Oracle's Linux support as well -- there may be more developments involving companies with toeholds in the market and open source solution providers looking for an umbrella, said Gardner, who viewed Oracle's Linux strategy as targeting Microsoft and IBM more than Red Hat.

"It may make for if not odd, then different bedfellows," he said.

Calling Oracle's Linux play "inevitable," Gardner added that customers stand to gain from the price pressure it will bring to not only Red Hat, but others in a "price war in middleware."

"It's really kind of a leveling out of IT vendors," he said. "We finally have price competition from end to end."

Open Source Onus

Oracle's move is a recognition that open source software and business works, Gardner reflected, and it means that Microsoft will be one of the only companies continuing to "go it alone."

Oracle has taken Red Hat's Linux, removed its trademarks, and provided its own support for the free and open source code. The move is not without risk. The company is likely to incur the open source community's wrath if it should display any unwillingness to fully participate and promote its prosperity, Weiss said.

"They will need to be more sensitive to the demands and needs of the open source community," he emphasized.

Oracle's Linux strategy may promote Linux overall, but will not help companies -- such as Red Hat -- that center their business on supporting Linux, Illuminata Senior Analyst Gordon Haff told LinuxInsider.

"If anything, it increases the overall use of Linux, so in that sense, it helps Linux projects," he said. "However, in general, it hurts people trying to make money at selling support and services for Linux."


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