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Ellison 'determined' to acquire PeopleSoft

Oracle's CEO repeats his determination to acquire rival PeopleSoft, but was cagey about whether he would raise the offer price of his hostile takeover bid.

SAN FRANCISCO--Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison repeated on Tuesday his determination to acquire rival PeopleSoft, but was cagey about whether he would raise the offer price of his hostile takeover bid.

Questioned on Tuesday about whether Oracle could acquire PeopleSoft at its current offer price of $19.50 per share, Ellison replied, "Who knows?"

Ellison made the comment during a press briefing at the OracleWorld conference here, after a keynote speech. He also said his pursuit of the company is far from over. "We're very determined to complete this acquisition, and we're very patient," Ellison said.

That means Oracle may again extend its tender offer deadline, now set for Oct. 17. Oracle has extended the date four times since launching the bid in early June. The company awaits the conclusion of the Department of Justice's antitrust review of the deal.

The offer price has become a topic of debate recently, as PeopleSoft's stock has steadily climbed over the past week, making Oracle's offer less appetizing to PeopleSoft investors. With Wall Street optimism building over PeopleSoft's merger with J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft's shares closed at $18.82 Tuesday.

But if Oracle raises the bid much higher than the $7.25 billion now on the table, company stakeholders may feel they aren't getting such a good deal, analysts say. As Ellison reiterated Tuesday, "We like to buy on sale."

Ellison dismissed comments made last week by PeopleSoft Chief Executive Craig Conway that "the Oracle saga is over." If Conway really felt that way, Ellison suggested, he wouldn't have offered PeopleSoft customers a money-back guarantee that's good only if the company is acquired. "The man has to learn to be consistent," Ellison said of Conway.

PeopleSoft renewed the refund plan last month. The company originally slated the program to end on June 30, after the close of the PeopleSoft's second quarter.

Ellison said Oracle Executive Vice President Chuck Phillips, who is scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon, would comment further on the PeopleSoft bid.

Getting with the grid
The CEO also discussed at length his company's work on a concept known as grid computing. He touted grid computing--pooling the computing power of hundreds of servers over a network--as the biggest innovation in information technology since IBM introduced the modern mainframe in 1964.

"Grid computing is the first real new approach to enterprise computing in 40 years," Ellison said during his keynote speech earlier in the day. "Finally, we have something new to talk about."

Oracle's approach to grid computing, embodied in a new line of products slated for release around the end of the year, overcomes some of the biggest limitations in computing today, Ellison said. In his estimation, those obstacles are that today's complex business applications are hitting a ceiling in computing capacity; adding processing power is too expensive; and current systems are prone to crashing.

With competitors IBM and Microsoft also placing stakes in grid computing, Ellison said a main distinction of Oracle's grid technology is its ability to run business applications from SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and Oracle itself more efficiently. "And you don't have to change a single line of code" within the applications, he said.

With that feature, companies will no longer have to buy a box of servers dedicated to running payroll, for instance, which sit idle except for a few days at the end of every pay period, Ellison said.

The only obstacle to Ellison's grid plans, the chief executive said later in the press briefing, is that "people hate change." Grid computing, he said, will shake up workers in IT departments and corporate data centers, forcing them to learn new skills or find their jobs outsourced to places like India. He said executives may also struggle with the "fundamental restructuring of business" that grid computing represents, making companies operate more globally.

But during his keynote speech, Ellison sought to quell such fears, saying grid computing will free Oracle database administrators and chief information officers from having to figure out how to make systems work together.