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Red Hat CEO Calls on Oracle to Keep Java Open

With Oracle set to acquire Sun and gain stewardship over Java, there are many in the tech world with an opinion on how the database giant should handle its new relationship with the programming language.

One of those opinions is being voiced by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who is calling on Oracle to keep Java open. During a conference call yesterday to discuss Red Hat's (NYSE: RHT) first-quarter fiscal 2010 results, Whitehurst also took aim at Oracle's operating system business.

Both are matters of critical importance to Red Hat, which works with Oracle as part of the Java community but also competes against Oracle in the operating system space and Java middleware. And with the Sun acquisition, Oracle will gain new, competing operating systems -- Solaris and OpenSolaris.

Red Hat, meanwhile, makes the bulk of its revenues from its own operating system business, which is still growing despite the current recession. The company on Wednesday reported that its first fiscal quarter of 2010 showed a rise in income and revenues.

The company reported an 11 percent year-over-year increase in revenue, hitting $174.4 million. Net income for the quarter totaled $18.5 million, or $0.10 per share, which is an improvement over the $17.3 million or $0.08 per share it saw for the first quarter of 2009.

But Java is also playing an important part of Red Hat's business. During yesterday's call, Whitehurst said that Red Hat's JBoss Java middleware business is a key part of its product mix, while Red Hat CFO Charlie Peters added that during the first quarter, Red Hat had five deals that were worth $1 million or more, two of which were standalone middleware deals.

With Oracle acquiring Sun, analysts on the investor call were curious about how it might impact Red Hat and Java Community Process (JCP) that governs Java -- and most importantly, whether Oracle might lock out vendors like Red Hat.

"We've obviously been involved in the JCP with Oracle for a long time, and Oracle has, over a long period of time, continued to ask for more openness," Whitehurst said. "I think given that Java is not a standalone world, there's .NET out there as well, and I certainly think and hope that Oracle understands the importance of keeping Java very, very open and moving forward, recognizing that it's not a single world out there."

"Java has to compete with lightweight frameworks, has to compete with .NET, and so it's important to keep Java vibrant and thriving," he said.

Whitehurst said he's not worried about the new competition, and added that he does not see OpenSolaris as even being an enterprise competitor to Red Hat. That's in spite of the fact that Sun recently updated OpenSolaris to be more enterprise-ready.

"Frankly, we haven't seen a material OpenSolaris customer base in the enterprise," Whitehurst said. "So it's not been a significant market factor to date, and we'll obviously continue to watch it going forward, but most of our customers are still focused on getting off of Solaris and going all the way to Linux, and we're quite good at helping customers do that."

Red Hat also directly competes with Oracle on support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Oracle has offered its own supported version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux since 2006. Oracle has stated that its Linux release is not a fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, though Whitehurst disagrees.

"I think Oracle's competing Linux is a fork of Red Hat Linux," Whitehurst said. "They are not capable of guaranteeing that any changes they make their customers will make it in back upstream, and therefore, they've had very limited success in selling the product."

Oracle, however, has stated that it has over 2,000 customers for its Linux offerings.

Whitehurst noted that Red Hat has yet to lose a major customer to Oracle and that all of its top 25 deals each quarter for the last five quarters have renewed. According to Whitehurst, the only major Red Hat customer that has not renewed due to Oracle's Linux in the last couple of years was Oracle itself.

"I think with the addition of Solaris, I think it would be an even harder sell of something that's already proven pretty unsuccessful for them," Whitehurst said. "I wouldn't want to be the sales guy compensated on selling Oracle Unbreakable Linux."