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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Road thoughts on Microsoft, Oracle, and Open Source

Many of you can appreciate the weariness of traveling, waking up in a hotel room and having to think for a moment where you are. Or sitting in an airport lounge forgetting what state you are in. Such is the condition I find myself in as I write this. But, I’ve been asked so much over the past few days what I think about all this Microsoft and Oracle stuff and its affect on open source. So, for the record, here are my thoughts.

Giant corporations like Microsoft and Oracle have a lot going for them. For one, they have many great employees with a ton of talent. Secondly, they have a lot of marketing pull. The stones (boulders) they drop into a lake make much bigger ripples than the tiny pebbles from most other companies. However, with such greatness of size and power also comes a certain amount of antipathy from the masses. Notwithstanding Wall Street’s view, it’s almost as if there is some fundamental principle of external disenchantment that sets in once a company passes a certain threshold. Regardless of one’s world view, it is a fact that both Microsoft
and Oracle recently dropped some pretty heavy stones into the open source lake.

So, what does this all mean for the open source community? Not only do I think it is good news, but I also think inevitable. Let’s start with the inevitability and then move on to the goodness.

Oracle wants to be in the operating system environment, actually the whole stack environment (think Fusion) for their business process architecture. They had been rumoring at Linux for a long time, so this announcement should have been no surprise. Oracle wants to be “the” platform for business processing, and the operating system is a natural part of that architecture. Now, how much Oracle will really do with Linux remains to be seen. They certainly won’t want to fork RedHat unless there is a really solid business justification behind it. Some may speculate a “conspiracy theory” to depress RedHat’s market cap, but while highly juicy from an editorial perspective, I highly doubt that is what drove Oracle to make this move. The OS software is free, and Oracle’s focus is to do everything they can to drive businesses to their application environment. (NB: I will say that it is rather interesting that you don’t find much recent information from the Oracle execs on their blogs
. A quick look into a few of them revealed last updates from over six months ago.)

Likewise, Microsoft is in the operating system environment. And, what many people probably don’t know is that Microsoft has been working with Linux for quite a while. Bill Hilf, a really smart guy who came from IBM’s Linux team, runs the Microsoft open source team, and these guys have been quite busy
. And, of course, Microsoft wants clients to use their software, so why would they ignore a huge market in the Linux space. Now, how many Novell “coupons” Microsoft actually ships also remains to be seen. But, Microsoft will certainly continue to find the best balance between the revenue they generate from their operating system and the opportunities (both from a revenue and PR perspective) with Linux and the open source community.

So, the reason I think both of these “moves” are positive from an open source perspective is because they add additional legitimacy to the whole space. Of course, all of us already swimming in the open source lake know that the water is nice and warm, clean, safe, healthy, and here to stay. But, for those looking in from the outside at this (dare I say) oasis, the obvious question is, “Is that real?” When companies like Microsoft and Oracle start splashing around, you know you’ve crossed a tipping point. Now it no longer looks like an oasis, or even a lake. It is starting to look like an ocean.

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