Linux Strategies on the Line

The last three weeks have provided the biggest news stories to hit Linux in a long time, raising many questions and stirring speculation. What doesOracle have in mind — cutting intoRed Hat’s revenue for its own profit, or weakening theenterprise Linux leader for acquisition?

What will its partnership withMicrosoft do forNovell, and will the noise of more ardent open source supporters who are Microsoft foes translate to any real backlash?

Industry observers are weighing in on the various strategies from the companies, and the impact the new Linux battle lines will have on them.

Oracle’s Plan

The operating system has been an “unfortunate inconvenience” for Oracle, according to Illuminata Senior Analyst Gordon Haff.

“They see in Linux a potential path to doing raw iron again,” Haff told LinuxInsider, referring to Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux strategy, which is to offer lower-priced support for its own rendition of Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux.

Oracle is probably not aiming to injure Red Hat, he said, although that may be a side benefit. Rather, the database and middleware Goliath is looking to extend its dominance. There is little downside for Oracle if its strategy is not successful, Haff added.

Oracle feels it can address shortcomings in Red Hat’s Linux support, whether that’s price or services, Gartner Vice President George Weiss told LinuxInsider.

“I think they’re pointed in the right direction,” he said, referring to support, management and deployment of complex configurations with Linux as the correct target.

From Partner to Competitor

Weiss indicated Red Hat has been put in the precarious position of dealing with the transformation of a positive partner in the market into a competitor.

To confront the issue, Red Hat could either align with Oracle and its strategy, or resist it and stick to its own path, according to Weiss. Early indications are that Red Hat, which argues users will not get the same level of software certification through Oracle, is opting to go it alone.

No matter what, Weiss contended, Red Hat will have to be aggressive about avoiding even the perception of injury from Oracle’s move.

“I think Red Hat will face having to be more proactive about how it presents itself to the marketplace,” he noted.

The Oracle announcement and Microsoft-Novell partnership, whereby the proprietary and Linux vendors will team on Linux-Windows sales and support, were both bad news for Red Hat, Haff concluded.

“I don’t see either the Oracle or Novell-Microsoft announcements as being primarily designed to hurt Red Hat,” he said. “But Red Hat is quite clearly collateral damage in both cases.”

Haff explained both announcements put pressure on Red Hat in terms of its support pricing, which is now being undercut by Oracle.

Novell’s Big Move

After failing to gain ground on enterprise Linux leader Red Hat, Novell has turned to Microsoft and interoperability with Windows to get its Suse Linux into more of the market, Haff declared.

“This gives them a clear differentiator,” he said. “How important of a differentiator remains to be seen.”

Haff downplayed some vocal opposition to Novell’s partnership with Redmond, referring to a number of announcements from Microsoft aimed at greater cooperation and interoperability.

Meanwhile, Weiss claimed the Oracle Linux announcement was likely to slow the overall Linux market as users pause to consider it. The Microsoft-Novell announcement seemed to be “more positive in tone and more additive in nature.”

The deal will boost Novell’s recognition and could help it win more market share if the Linux vendor and Microsoft can innovate together to create value, Weiss predicted.

“Linux solutions by Novell should be and probably will be considered more,” he added.

Microsoft Crashes the Party

The Microsoft-Novell collaboration, centered on virtualization of both Windows and Linux platforms, may help form a virtualization ecosystem, Weiss said. It is Microsoft’s endorsement of Linux and a realization of the need to interoperate as well as compete, he continued.

Microsoft, which agreed to patent coverage for Suse Linux users through the deal, was “making a legal patent play here at some level,” according to Haff.

Haff, who doubted whether Red Hat would follow suit, said Linux is different because there is no single entity that can trade patent coverage, which is common between collaborating technology companies. Still, Redmond’s alliance with Novell is a recognition that Linux is here to stay, he said.

“In addition to the legal angle, there is a legitimate, ‘Linux is not going away, and we have to work in a world where there is Linux [from Microsoft],'” Haff added.

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