Why does Larry Ellison have a Red Hat fetish?

Larry Ellison wants us to believe his concern is growing the Linux market, yet he can't seem to get off an unhealthy fascination with Red Hat.

Larry Ellison made it clear in his closing keynote that he has Red Hat in his sights. What he didn't make clear is why.

Oracle did over $17 billion in revenue in 2007. Red Hat? $400 million (up from $278 million in 2006). Mr. Ellison alleges that Oracle "growing a lot faster than Red Hat" (presumably he means its Linux business, which isn't saying much given the lower base from which it's growing). But this, as I've noted before, is like declaring himself the sexiest nun in the convent. Red Hat's revenue, while significant, is peanuts compared to Oracle's. Why can't he rid himself of a fetish for hounding Red Hat? The operating system simply isn't that critical to Oracle's story.

I think because he recognizes something in Red Hat that drives him batty: he can't truly own it.

Larry doesn't understand open source. This isn't surprising since the people who report to him apparently don't, either (though I don't include Mike Olson in that crowd - he's a victim of golden handcuffs :-). Oracle desperately wants open source to be "just another tool" that it uses for IT domination. It's not. It actually has the opposite effect.

Oracle just can't grok this.

It wants to own the Linux kernel. It can't. It wanted to own JBoss. It couldn't. Open source is about controlling through sharing, but Oracle doesn't do the "share" thing very well.

And so we'll have to sporadically endure Mr. Ellison's ego pronouncing himself god of the Linux world, despite his Linux business being so anemic that he won't break out its numbers. If the numbers are so great, report them, Mr. Ellison. (Having said this, it's important to note that Oracle stopped breaking out revenue by product line many years ago.)

One analyst I talked to said this of Oracle's Linux business:

As for Linux i don't think they make that much money on it since they are charging much less than Red Hat for support. Their goal with Linux is to grow market adoption, not skim a few million bucks charging $400 per server.

Which is well and good except that Mr. Ellison can't seem to give up his Red Hat fetish. If the goal is to grow market adoption, there are much better ways than through his constant bashing of the market leader. Working with Red Hat (and Novell) to improve the technology and market perception would be much more productive.

But Mr. Ellison can't own that. So it doesn't register. At least we won't have to be bothered by more of this until next year's non-announcements about his exploding Linux business.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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