Open source software security

Oracle vs. Red Hat, Un-Believable?

30 November -0001

The heat is on.

Right now it looks like there’s a major war shaping up in the Linux community, and this war is set to be rather different from the other ones that have occurred. You see, this time the fight isn’t about obscure file system structures or project forks, this time it’s about money. And the people fighting this fight aren’t geeks with duct taped glasses, this time the people kicking up a fuss are all in suits.

If you look at Red Hat’s (RHAT) stock price it’s crumbled over the last six months. You might wonder what would cause that to happen. Well, two days ago Oracle finally officially announced what had been rumbling around in the rumor mill for a long time - they’re going to begin work on their own version of Linux.

While some might take a look at this and rejoice, it’s not necessarily such a great move. Sure, installing an Oracle database on Linux with the full blessing and support of Oracle would be wonderful. No more of those painful long installations, fumbling with disks, monkeying with arcane install processes. No more headaches and tears, sleepless nights and praying that Oracle will continue to play nice with the OS day in and day out.

But wait a minute, you say. If Oracle is already horrendous at getting an install process working on the tremendously well documented, and tremendously installed Red Hat Enterprise Linux base, why would they be any better at doing so on their own brand of Oracle Linux? Well, because they could change that Linux to better suit the database. And that is the crux of the problem as I see it. Red Hat works long and hard to certify that their version of Linux will work on all sorts of hardware. They have very talented people, and a long history with the Linux community (and thus a lot of community support) working on compatibility. Oracle Linux (code named Unbreakable) could essentially defeat all the work these people do. In essence, the distribution could become a lot more friendly to the database, and a lot less friendly to the ‘iron’ - the machine that hosts it all.

Another interesting thing to examine is the community. These are the people that make Linux tick. Linux is an open source effort, with volunteers devoting their time and energy to make the system better. Red Hat has been commercially selling and supporting Linux for years, and they’ve given a lot back to the community over that time. They have the strong support of a lot of people that make Linux what it is. What’s more there are an army of systems administrators with Red Hat Certification, that they paid and/or trained for.

The Linux community is notoriously suspicious of big business. Just witness their long rivalry with Microsoft. It is quite possible that the community will react with the same bile to Oracle that they do to Redmond. If Oracle successfully crushes Red Hat, this sentiment will only increase.

While Oracle may see their announcement as a move to better their business, or even to retaliate against Red Hat for their purchase of JBoss, ultimately it could come to bite them in the rear. Personally, based on my experience with installing Oracle products, I wouldn’t wish an Oracle Linux installation on my worst enemy. Not only that, but if Oracle succeeds in screwing over Red Hat you’re going to have a community of angry people - the same people that toil in big businesses data rooms and advise purchasing - who have been honed by years of Microsoft hatred who will turn on Oracle. These are the same people who have been responsible for getting big business to adopt Linux over Microsoft in the first place. They’re no longer the naive geeks they used to be, but are now quite well versed in business practice, lingo, and arguing ROI. If Oracle alienates these people how can they possibly gain a foothold in the Linux market?