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Oracle's Offering and Red Hat's Response - Updated
Thursday, October 26 2006 @ 03:55 AM EDT

You may wish to view Larry Ellison's keynote for yourself, in which he cited the SCO Group's litigation, believe it or not, claiming it is holding back Linux adoption in the enterprise. I expect to see an IBM lawyer holding up a chart with that quotation on it, in some hearing soon. Just kidding. The vendors aren't offering indemnification, Ellison said, and because of SCO, there's all this uncertainty and doubt about intellectual property. He says he will offer indemnification. In the Q&A at the end, he was asked if Oracle was planning to buy SCO to bring that uncertainty to an end. No, was the answer.

If he thought they were going to be victorious, he'd buy them in a New York minute. No uncertainty or doubt about that. So who is he kidding?

Red Hat already has their response on their website, with a big sign on their homepage that reads: "Unfakeable Linux - Red Hat responds." The most important thing they say is that it's not true that you must upgrade to the most recent version to get support, as Ellison claimed in his speech. Here's what Red Hat says about that:

Support & Maintenance Lifecycle

Q: In order to get support and maintenance for Red Hat, do you need to upgrade to the most recent version?

A: No. Red Hat subscribers enjoy support and updates for all versions for up to 7 years. Throughout that time, Red Hat provides regular maintenance releases as part of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription. This is supplemented through our support services by a 'hot-fix' process that provides critical bug fixes on customer-specific basis. Oracle "reserves the right to desupport certain Enterprise Linux program releases" as part of their Oracle Enterprise Linux support policies.

Update, Thurs. 6:27 PM EDT: Novell's CMO John Dragoon now has a response on his blog as well:

We agree that Linux is an enterprise class operating platform and that it deserves world class support. In fact, Novell has been providing world class support for operating system platforms for over 23 years. We provide the innovation, quality assurance and 24×7 global support for Linux that is only available direct from the manufacturer and not just for Linux server platforms but the entire spectrum of Linux operating platforms including server, desktop, thin client, real time, and point of service - all from one company....

Linux is indeed ready for the enterprise. It’s no longer about cost. Linux is being deployed in the enterprise because of its performance, reliability and security advantages. Having another major technology company support this reality is good. I say, “come on in, the water is fine”.

On indemnification, from the Oracle FAQ:

Do customers need to be concerned about IP ownership issues? -- Oracle is committed to the success of the Linux platform and will stand behind our support offering by providing indemnification against intellectual property claims raised against our customers.

Well. That is sufficiently vague. HP offers indemnnification, by the way, since 2003. So does Novell, since 2004. So does Red Hat, since 2004. And OSRM offers insurance solutions through Lloyd's of London on Linux and other Open Source software. OpenLogic just announced that it will indemnify a whole list of smaller projects as well, and they are up front and clear about what you get:

OpenLogic’s indemnification offering is available to all customers who have purchased support from OpenLogic. OpenLogic will provide indemnification for intellectual property infringements, including defense of claims, repair and replacement of infringing software, and up to four times the value of the contract for damage awards.

How can Ellison not know this? Progeny already offers backporting bug fixes, by the way. Just so you know.

Some other issues Red Hat lists:

Red Hat & JBoss Subscriptions

Q: Does Oracle's announcement include support for the Red Hat Application Stack, JBoss, Hibernate, Red Hat GFS, Red Hat Cluster Suite, Red Hat Directory Server, or Red Hat Certificate System?

A: No. Oracle does not support any of these leading open source products.

Hardware Compatibility

Q: Oracle says their Linux support includes the same hardware compatibility and certifications as Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Is this true?

A: No. Oracle has stated they will make changes to the code independently of Red Hat. These changes will not be tested during Red Hat's hardware testing and certification process, and may cause unexpected behavior. Hence Red Hat hardware certifications are invalidated.

And there's plenty more. I suggest you read the entire page, to clear your head after listening to the keynote.

Oracle says it will offer free binaries. How? Oracle will take Red Hat's code, strip out the Red Hat trademarks, and then add bug fixes, and then recompile. That recompilation is how they offer binaries. Yes. A legal workaround. Hey, he says, this is capitalism. Oracle is competing. Yes. But is it in a manner that reflects community standards and values? They will supply the bug fixes to everyone immediately, by the way. But given the concerns Red Hat raises, I wonder who'll touch them? Once you do, you are Oracle's for life. Joke, joke. Note some issues Red Hat brings up:

Binary Compatibility

Q: Will Oracle's Linux support be binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

A: There is no way to guarantee that changes made by Oracle will maintain API (Application Programming Interface) or ABI (Application Binary Interface) compatibility; there may be material differences in the code. Compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux can only be verified by Red Hat's internal test suite.

Source Code Compatibility

Q: Will Oracle's product result in a "fork" of the operating system?

A: Yes. The changes Oracle has stated they will make will result in a different code base than Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Simply put, this derivative will not be Red Hat Enterprise Linux and customers will not have the assurance of compatibility with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux ecosystem.

Updates

Q: Oracle says they will provide the same updates as Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Can they do this?

A: There are multiple requirements to building binary compatible software. One piece is the source code; another is the build and test environment. While Oracle may be able to take the source code at some point after a Red Hat update release, obviously their build and test environment will inherently be different than that for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. For similar reasons, there is no guarantee that the source code for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux update will work correctly when integrated into Oracle's modified Linux code base.

The CEOs of Dell and HP, among others, say this is a great leap forward, in video clips at the end. Things are beginning to smell funny, folks. There does appear to be some kind of enterprise makeover attempt, to remake Linux in their image. Why would anyone imagine that grabbing Red Hat's work product and cutting Red Hat off from its own customers would be progress? And if Red Hat is put out of business, what will Oracle sell then?

What the corporate dudes never do grasp is that you can't coopt FOSS past a point, because FOSS programmers won't work for nothing to buy them yachts. That's not why they did this. And Linux is a living product, a process that never stands still. That means the enterprise need the programmers to keep toiling away. But if it gets any more smarmy, most of them just won't. So when it gets to looking like their code is being misused, they'll just leave the enterprise to try to write it all themselves, and you know if they could do that, they would have already.

Oracle's prices are designed to kill Red Hat, I'm hearing. But if you read the Oracle FAQ, what you get for $99 a year isn't much. Well, you get what you pay for. You get the following: "Access to software and updates through the Unbreakable Linux Network." For Enterprise Linux Premier Support, it'll cost you $1,199 a year per system up to 2 CPUs, or $1,999 a year for unlimited CPUs, and you get "Network access, 24x7 support with global coverage, plus back port of fixes to earlier releases as well as Oracle Lifetime Support." Take a look at Red Hat's fine grained offerings, including the TechnicalAccount Management service, where your assigned support person practically lives with you, and make your own comparison.

Sun and HP also seem to be trying to cut Red Hat out of the loop with their customers, but they seem to be using Red Hat as shipped. Sun offers this service. Then there's Sun's Software Premium Service Plan, which offers this: "You have access to the latest software version updates and upgrades, and avoid separate upgrade licensing fees."

HP offers a service also. Of course, they'd like to sell some hardware too:

Integrated hardware/software support

HP Support Plus 24 delivers comprehensive, multivendor hardware and software services for Red Hat Linux environments. Working with your IT team, HP Services engineers deliver four-hour response onsite hardware support and over-the-phone software support 24x7x365. Established escalation procedures enlist specialized expertise from HP and selected third-party hardware and software vendors.

But they'll support the software only also.

Progeny will customize Linux just for your needs, in addition to backporting bug fixes:

Need a customized Linux platform for your product or service?

Perhaps a modified Linux OS would better suit your needs than the "one size fits all" standard distributions. Maybe your organization lacks the skills or resources to develop and maintain the underlying Linux platform in-house.

Progeny can assist you with a wide range of Linux platform needs. For customers who simply need to maintain an older version of Red Hat® Linux® while deciding on a transition path, Progeny Transition Service delivers security patches for Red Hat Linux 7.2, 7.3, 8.0, and 9. If your platform needs are more extensive, Platform Services allows you to outsource any or all of the essential processes of custom Linux platforms...

Making Linux more successful in the enterprise is the right goal. But not if you kill off what makes Linux desirable, namely ethics. It's the value add of FOSS, and if the corporate guys don't figure that out soon, they really will kill the Golden Goose. Let me explain in one sentence why:

Cut throat competition destroys software.

The Open Source process is built on the the same principles that work in any scientific environment. You share knowledge. You cooperate. Business always wants to balkanize. They very nearly killed Unix doing exactly that. And here they go with Linux, trying the same stupid thing. Brand X Linux. But you know what the song says, and it's true: There Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby.


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