Ellison sticks to familiar themes at annual confab

Oracle chief recycles speech from last year's show and pledges the company would treat PeopleSoft customers right.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--With so many things on his mind these days, coming up with fresh material for a keynote speech didn't appear to be on Oracle boss Larry Ellison's list of priorities this week.

The software tycoon--famous for his yacht racing and Dumpster diving--gave an unusually staid speech here at his company's annual OpenWorld convention on Wednesday. Ellison virtually recycled his speech from last year's conference, warning thousands of tech professionals gathered to hear him speak about the dangers of "data fragmentation." He urged them to gather their companies' data in one large database instead of spreading it out across a multitude of disconnected computers.

Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., builds some of the world's largest databases, competing in that market with IBM, Microsoft and Sybase.

Ellison even used the same examples as he used in a speech earlier this year, holding up the credit industry and its instantaneous tracking of financial transactions as the gold standard of data processing sophistication.

Scoring points for originality appears to have taken a back seat for Ellison, who is the midst of managing a takeover battle with software rival PeopleSoft, weighing other buyout targets and hunting for a professional football team to buy after being rejected recently by the owners of the San Francisco 49ers.

During the keynote, Ellison chided the football team's owners but had little new to say about his company's embattled bid for PeopleSoft, which he's been pursuing for more than a year. He did, at one point, reiterate the company's pledge to keep PeopleSoft's 12,000 customers happy.

"We are going to oversupport PeopleSoft customers," Ellison said, borrowing a phrase used here by Oracle President Safra Katz on Tuesday.

He also promised that if the takeover attempt is successful, Oracle will finish building new versions of programs that PeopleSoft is now developing and eventually merge those products with Oracle's own. Both companies make software programs that help businesses manage accounting, customer service, purchasing and other tasks--a market dominated by German rival SAP.

"We're going to invest more in the product than either company could have done independently," Ellison said. "And we're going to give SAP a good run for their money in this business."

Oracle won support for the bid from PeopleSoft's shareholders last month, when more than half agreed to Oracle's $24-a-share offer. But Oracle continues to face opposition from PeopleSoft's board, which is protected by a "poison pill" takeover defense plan.

Oracle is suing to force PeopleSoft to abandon its poison pill, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday. That may be one reason Ellison and company aren't rocking the PeopleSoft boat this week

The buyout brawl is likely to continue for several more months, culminating in a proxy fight for control of PeopleSoft's board at its annual shareholder meeting next year.

Asked about the ongoing contest during his keynote, Ellison said it's no surprise that PeopleSoft's board is holding out for a higher offer and that, as a buyer, Oracle is trying to hold the price down.

"That's just the nature of business," he said.