Larry Ellison the ‘bad boy’ of the industry as he likes to bill himself, but probably more correctly the industry maverick for change, enjoyed himself hugely in giving his keynote at Oracle Open World. His announcement that Oracle would support the RedHat distribution of Linux by offering maintenance support and further development of kernel features in full accordance with the Linux community rules went down very well with his audience. They could see the way to take full advantage of a Linux based OS without the worry of the quality or expense of Linux maintenance.
On the other hand as one of the audience questioned, a Goldman Sachs analyst, asked; ‘is the destruction of RedHat an unintended side effect?’. Well certainly RedHat shares went down almost 25% in the following 24 hours, and certainly the committed Open Source community for whom the principle of Open Source is sacred were shocked, but for many including analysts it was not a big surprise.
Oracle has made no secret of its increasing interest in how to use Open Source together with Open Standards to allow ‘add ons’ that will broaden the appeal of its core products. It has acquired several Open Source providers, notable names including Sleepy Cat and Berkeley; whilst in their core market of Databases they have expressed interest in acquiring MySQL, as well as actually acquiring Innobase an open source contributor to the MySQL distribution. They have also added to the Linux kernel with contributions that support Oracle cluster file system, and proven that they are good ‘Linux’ citizens by doing this in accordance with all the principles.
What is interesting is that Oracle has now demonstrated something very new; it’s not necessary to buy the owner of an Open Source distribution, after all the code is ‘free’, therefore there is no intellectual property to purchase as in a conventional software vendor purchase, but you can make money from offering maintenance on the their distribution. This breaks the unwritten rules of Open Source and must cause IBM as the existing biggest champion of supporting Open Source to rethink their strategy.
In one shot Oracle has just;
a) figured out how to make money out of other people’s efforts to build software;
b) just impacted the pricing for software maintenance by cutting the currently very expensive maintenance rates for Linux by 50 to 60%;
c) placed itself squarely in the game of developing Open Source software and
d) deflected open source community criticism around this introducing code forks by offering synchronisation with new RedHat distributions, assuming RedHat stays in business to be able to introduce new upgrade versions.
So what does this mean? Well the analysts are still out trying to figure it out from a pure commercial sense, but what about you? What do you feel in a personal sense? Whilst this may be a legal move, is it in the spirit, on the other hand will it mean that open source will now grow faster as full commercial maintenance is available? There are so many questions here and in the end it will all depend on the reaction of users.