RealTime IT News

Will Oracle Linux Kill Red Hat?

Sean Michael KernerReporter's Notebook: So Oracle isn't going to create its own Linux based on Ubuntu to fight Red Hat. Oracle is going to have its own Linux based on Red Hat's own binaries to fight Red Hat.

Sort of like using a person's own hands to choke them with.

Officially though, Red Hat is taking the same opinion that I expressed last week about the whole Oracle Linux issue. Namely that Oracle's move is good for the open source market as a whole.

"The opportunity for open source just got bigger," Red Hat spokesperson Leigh Day told internetnews.com. "Oracle's announcement further validates open source and Red Hat's technical leadership. We will continue to optimize Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Oracle and compete on value and innovation."

Red Hat has long been the flag bearer for enterprise Linux, and much to its credit, it has always made its binaries available for free.

So while Oracle ripping off those binaries and stripping out the Red Hat-specific trademarks might seem uncouth, it is not unheard of in the open source world.

Heck, Oracle will actually be the fourth vendor to offer a ripped-off version of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

There are currently three vendors in the market today that already offer RHEL as a cloned non-Red Hat supported version.

The largest and most popular of the bunch is CentOS, which, according to Netcraft, is one of the most widely deployed distributions out there.

In fact using another distro's base to make your own is a fundamental tenant of the Linux ecosystem and is how nearly all modern Linux distributions came into being, including Red Hat.

A little known fact is that the very first Red Hat distribution was actually based on Slackware Linux, as is Red Hat's principal enterprise Linux competitor SUSE Linux.

The Oracle-supported Asianux distribution, which is built with Red Flag and Miracle Linux is, at its core, also based on Red Hat binaries. Building off another distribution is part of the Linux tradition.

Oracle is a lot different than the other vendors that have ripped off RHEL for their own purposes, though. Oracle is Oracle after all, a multi-billion dollar concern that has its own agenda for its own software.

No doubt Oracle was hearing from some customers that they didn't want to pay Red Hat anymore, especially since they could just use something like CentOS for free.

By creating their own CentOS, Oracle has the opportunity to prevent revenue leakage and perhaps make a few dollars in the process.

Ellison noted in his keynote that any patches that Oracle makes would be submitted back to the community in proper open source fashion to make all Linux versions better.

The reality of the situation is Oracle has some very specific needs from Linux, needs that it will be able to better control and configure in its own version.

The reality of patch submission is often that the vendor that submits the patches has already implemented the patch in its own system, giving it a head start against others. Then there's also the fact that not all patches make sense for all vendors to implement.

Ultimately what this means is that within a year Oracle Linux is likely to diverge from RHEL in my opinion, and the thin mask of supporting a Red Hat Linux will be dropped.

Then again, Oracle's timing in this matter is not exactly ideal.

Red Hat is on the verge of releasing RHEL 5, which will include a long list of new and improved features that only Red Hat truly understands and will be able to support.

Among them is a Xen virtualization manager and improved SELinux support that are now appearing in Fedora Core 6.

For enterprise customers that need support and expertise in the new areas in which RHEL 5 innovates it will be a tough sell for Oracle Linux.

So does Oracle Linux actually hurt Red Hat?

Not as much as you might think.

I believe that it actually hurts Novell far worse since Oracle is essentially standardizing on a Red Hat base. As long as the myth of binary compatibility between Oracle Linux and RHEL exists, users will potentially have the option of moving back and forth between the two.

Oracle is actually a whole lot more vulnerable than Red Hat in this whole exercise. Oracle core products are not open source and are at risk from lower price competition.

Sun recently embraced PostgreSQL to help its customers move less critical systems off of Oracle.

It's a huge opportunity for Red Hat to extend its own ecosystem and challenge Oracle in its own front yard. If I were Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik I would formally acquire an Oracle challenger, either MySQL or a PostgreSQL vendor like EnterpriseDB and aggressively go after Oracle.

In the end, though, what all this means is more open source. And more open source, as I've said before -- and as Ellison himself indicated in his keynote, is all good.