Eye on Oracle

Mar 18 2009   2:18PM GMT

Oracle a sudden proponent of free software — if its Red Hat’s

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

Oracle is not a company usually hailed for its pricing — the software giant recently decided to raise its list prices by 15 to 20% and was criticized as being sticklers on its maintenance fees.

So why would Oracle urge another company to give away its product for free?

Oracle’s chief Linux technologist, Wim Coekaerts, suggested just that to Oracle’s open source competitor Red Hat. According to Coekaerts, Red Hat should charge for support, but not for open source, because “open source software is supposed to be free.”

But maybe Oracle’s not in a place to give Red Hat open source suggestions. Last month, an IDC report showed that Red Hat was gaining budget share among Oracle applications customers. Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux, which CNET’s Matt Asay calls its cheaper “Red Hat knockoff,” did not have the same customer support. The IDC report stated: “Oracle’s own customers appear to vote in favor of Red Hat rather than Oracle’s own Unbreakable Linux offering.”

While Oracle and Coekaerts seem to be putting the emphasis on price, customers are emphasizing value.

In his CNET article, Matt Asay points out that Oracle’s “cost-effective” Linux support offering is actually a Basic plan that expires after three years. And maybe even more unsettling is that Oracle reserves the right to stop supporting its Linux customers at any time.

But are the supposed shortcomings in Oracle’s cheaper Linux support even noticed during a recession?

Maybe so. According to Asay, “In a downturn, money seeks value, and Red Hat has been delivering value in spades… Enterprises go with trusted brands, especially in times of economic uncertainty. That’s why Oracle’s database business will certainly grow through the recession, but its Linux business will not.”

In addition to its Unbreakable Linux, Oracle offers Oracle Enterprise Linux, which it describes as an exact replica of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Oracle gives away its Oracle Enterprise Linux for free, but it doesn’t come with the same testing and certification guarantees of Red Hat.

Do you use Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux or Red Hat Enterprise Linux? What factors have influenced your decision? What do you think about the idea that Red Hat should offer its open source software for free?

3/25 UPDATE: But if the rumors swirling around earlier this week are true that Oracle is about to scoop up Red Hat, this may all be moot. With such an acquisition, Oracle would have access to all of Red Hat’s open source technology, including all of its virtualization technologies. The company’s credibility in the open source community would be immediately improved and it would gain an important weapon against virtualization competitors, most notably VMware and Citrix.

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  • Djeepp
    This is not a path Oracle wants to go down. I don't think they understand the wrath of the open source community when provoked. Especially Red Hat, which is not exactly a delicate flower. I've used Oracle's distros. They look and feel exactly like Red Hat to me. So why would I eat Oracle's soy burger when I can have Red Hat's real thing? I love Oracle's products, but they seem to be lacking in knowing what lines not to cross and this is definitely one of them.
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