The move to support Linux is another attempt by the database giant to attack Microsoft's dominance in the operating system market. Linux--an open-source operating system similar to Unix--has become increasingly popular in recent years and is seen by many as a threat to Microsoft's Windows.
Oracle is expected to announce plans to build new versions of its software to support Linux and new Linux-based partnerships, sources said. The announcements will coincide with the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, which begins Monday in San Jose, California.
Ray Wong, currently Oracle's vice president of server technologies, will run the new Linux unit, sources said. The unit will include Oracle employees who recently helped build a Linux version of Oracle's 8i database.
"[The new unit's] charge is basically development and marketing and supporting Linux initiatives," one source said. "They will obviously work with other organizations throughout the industry that support Linux."
An Oracle representative declined comment.
Analysts say it's a smart move for Oracle to latch onto the growing Linux movement and to lessen its reliance on Microsoft and Windows.
"It's clear Oracle is making substantial support for Linux and getting products out there. They see it as an?opportunity to outflank Microsoft," said Merv Adrian, an analyst with Giga Information Group.
Larry Ellison, Oracle's chief executive, has been particularly critical of Microsoft and has charged that the company does not fully disclose its underlying application programming interfaces--giving its own application developers an advantage over competitors who build software for Windows. Other software company executives have leveled similar charges against Microsoft.
Carl Olofson of International Data Corporation said Oracle's announcement is not a surprise because so many large software companies, from IBM to Computer Associates, are also supporting Linux.
"Oracle will always continue to aggressively pursue alternative platforms to Windows NT, to reduce their dependency on NT," he said.
The strategy, Olofson said, is in line with Oracle's forthcoming Oracle 8i appliance, formerly code-named Raw Iron. The appliance, which contains a Solaris operating system kernel, allows businesses to run applications without having to use an underlying operating system, such as Windows NT.
The new business unit could be a calculated risk as Oracle now has to support the operating system for the long haul, Olofson said.
"They know they're not doing it alone. So it makes every company feel comfortable joining in," he said. "They feel the sheer weight of the momentum of all these companies going to Linux will create a demand."
Oracle is expected to develop Linux versions for most of its family of products, including development tools, its applications lineup, and reporting software.