Unbreakable Linux: a hat-trick for open-source

Oracle’s recent announcement about what they call “Unbreakable Linux,”
Enterprise Linux: Announcing: Enterprise-Class Support for Linux
, has caused quite a ruckus [1]. A good summary, including links to some of the press articles on this topic, can be found in Steve O’Grady’s blog post So Ellison Was Serious: The Oracle Linux Q&A.

The conventional wisdom is that Oracle is firing a shot across Red Hat’s bow. Red Hat’s stock took a hit just after the Oracle announce.

Steve’s post notes that there have even been accusations that Oracle is doing something wrong, that it is playing unfair. People are displeased! Steve says in his post:

Haven’t seen too many folks jumping for joy, though I’m sure there are fans of the move out there.

Steverino, say Hi to fan Dave. [2]

I’m jumping for joy. Let me tell you why.

Now I wear dual hats in writing this blog. My day job is working for IBM, so I guess that hat is blue and not red. But in this blog I’m writing as an open-source developer, a role in which I wear a hat only to keep warm, as can be shown by my picture that can be found in the Wayward’s Author section. I need all the help I can get in that department.

And as an open-source developer this announce is both a great hoot and a cause for great celebration.

It’s a hoot because, as is so often the case, analyses about one company’s taking an action in the open-source arena that is perceived as having an impact on another company in the arena focus on the corporate battle and in doing so ignore the folks that in my view really matter, the developers who write the code that is the source of all the fuss.

We developers just sit back and watch the salvos fly back and forth. At least some of us do. I’ve been involved in a few open-source announcements from IBM and from to time I have had to remind the marketing folks that open-source developers don’t read Gartner reports, Infoworld columns, or eWeek postings. They are too busy writing code, so if you want to reach them you have to find other venues. For example, A post from a Linus Torvalds, or Brian Behlendorf, or another key Apache developer, can have more impact with developers than all the business-oriented rags put together.

So, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning , let me count the ways I love the Oracle announce, and what it says about the state of open-source today:

Oracle’s announce is yet another proof-point that open-source has grown up. We have no more need to make the case that open-source is ready for the enterprise. IBM has been making that case for several years, and Oracle has just said they are ready , willing and able to support open-source in the enterprise.

Oracle’s announce means they realized that so many of their customers are using Linux to run Oracle’s software to run enterprise-level applications that it makes sense for them to provide support. By their announce they are admitting there is no need for them to put together their own distribution — which was my guess when I first heard all the buzz about an upcoming announce — but can rely on the distribution-building skills of Red Hat. Yes, they are competing with Red Hat, but are doing so on Red Hat’s home turf, deferring to Red Hat to define the software that Oracle will support.

Oracle is playing a delicate game here. If they are so successful that they drive Red Hat out of business then they may have to enter the Linux distribution business. Are they ready for that?

One of the real surprises in the announce is not what they say, but what they didn’t say. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes stories wrote about a dog that didn’t bark:

What’s that exchange about the dog that didn’t bark?
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” “That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. (It’s from the short story “Silver Blaze”.)

What dog? Microsoft! For example, a story in Red Herring,
Can Red Hat Survive? Oracle CEO Larry Ellison plays rough with the leading Linux software distributor
misses the point entirely. The question is not if Red Hat can survive, but can Microsoft survive? (This Red Herring article makes no mention of Microsoft.)

Think about it. Oracle is saying Linux is so ready for the enterprise that it makes sense to divert some of their resources that could be used to support Oracle running on Windows in order to support Oracle running on Linux. Who would have thunk it?

But the real trick is to think of the impact if Oracle had instead made the following announcement:

Enterprise Windows. Announcing: Enterprise-Class Support for Windows. Oracle Unbreakable Windows is a support program that provides enterprises with industry-leading global support for Windows. Recognizing the demand for true enterprise-quality Wndows support and seeing an opportunity to significantly reduce IT infrastructure costs, Oracle is now offering Windows operating system support.

Unbreakable Windows! Give me a break. Would Oracle be willing to offer enterprise-level support for Windows, installing each week the quota of security fixes, readying themselves to support the Vista that will soon be thrust upon us. The Oracle announce says they think Linux is unbreakable — would Oracle be willing to say the same about Windows?

That is perhaps the key point. Oracle is saying they believe Linux can be made “unbreakable.” Would anyone, including Microsoft, be willing to make that claim about Windows?

Microsoft isn’t ready to support Unbreakable Windows — they are too busy trying to figure out how to get the next version out the door — almost a decade since it was first announced.

I’ve also read that Oracle has hired away some developers with Linux skills away from Novell. That is wonderful. Competition for skilled Linux developers can only drive up their salaries, helping to drive another nail into the coffin about open-source being the work of unpaid amateur hackers. [3]

I expect so far I’ve listed at least three reasons why this is a cause for celebration in the open-source community. Which makes Oracle’s announce a Hat-trick for the open-source community. In the long run it might even be a Red Hat-trick. We shall see.


1. If you look at the URL of Oracle’s post you will find they are using PHP, an open-source technology, to power their own web site. I expect they’re using Linux and Apache too.

2. I watched Steve Allen’s TV show as a child. It was one of my favorites; he was one of the great TV comics, and a good musician to boot. He put together a great cast that included Don Knotts, Tom Posten, Louis Nye and Nanette Fabray (add links later). His wife Jane Meadows was also a great artist.

3. I’ve seen estimates that about 50% of the key Linux developers are paid to work on Linux and that they account for about 75% of the accepted contributions. Oracle’s action may not only give these developers more power to shape the course of operating system development but give them more money while they are doing this important work. And if Oracle doesn’t keep those developers happy they will move on.

One Comment

  1. Posted October 30, 2006 at 20:18 | Permalink | Reply

    I invite you to read my insights into Unbreakable Linux 2.0 at kevinclosson.wordpress.com

One Trackback

  1. By Posts « The Wayward Word Press on November 2, 2006 at 00:38

    […] Unbreakable Linux: a hat-trick for open-source […]

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