Finally An Unbreakable Linux!

The challenge of being a fan of open source while working at Microsoft is that people often assume that it's not possible for Microsoft to appreciate open source.  If there's one legacy that I'd like to leave at Microsoft to this point, it's that I fought hard for a CodePlex to be built because I believe in the .NET open source community.  But as long as my checks keep coming from Redmond, I can't possibly be doing anything to support open source, right?  If you don't believe me, read some of the comments that have been posted on my blog in the past few months.  I've been at conferences where I (on behalf of Microsoft) have been accused of trying to kill open source.  OK, first off, lets be clear about something:  nothing will kill open source.  Public domain software has been around a lot longer than Eric Raymond's phrase or the viral licenses that characterize it today.  It is and always will be the lifeblood of the developer community, regardless of what you call it.  But I did find yesterday's announcement by Oracle of "their own Linux" very interesting.  Apparently, they'll be taking Red Hat Linux, stripping the brand, and providing their own support.  There were too many fascinating aspects to this move that I couldn't go without dropping a blog to share my observations:

  • I'm a fan of open source as a concept, but not as a primary business model per se and this kinda explains why.  If someone is allowed to take your product, do a Find/Replace with your brand and their product, and then undercut you without you being able to respond, doesn't that expose a flaw in the business model? 
  • Give Oracle credit--they're not concerned about the "Not Invented Here" syndrome.  Good artists borrow and great artists steal, right Mr. Ellison?  Ellison is good friends with Steve Jobs, who is famous for borrowing that phrase from Picasso.  Given OS X is built on top of Darwin (the open source core that draws from FreeBSD), perhaps the idea of selling Oracle's proprietary databases on top of other people's free software isn't so revolutionary. 
  • The only thing Oracle is providing is support (and cool Oracle logos).  Technically, any random company can have their IT department pull the Red Hat code just like Oracle, and brand it "Random Company Linux" and not pay anything (I can see it now "Bed Bath and Beyond Linux").  The reason you'd go with Oracle or have gone with Red Hat is support.  It's insurance in case anything goes wrongm, which is part of my theory that the open source businesses are really insurance companies (there we go, "Prudential Linux"!).  I've always found that to be an inverted incentive program.  The better your product is, the less they need the thing they actually pay for.  In fact, if Oracle's Unbreakable Linux (yes, that's what they're calling it) is indeed unbreakable, why does a customer need support?  Unless it is hard to use...
  • Let's be honest.  Oracle will be doing it to support their proprietary database systems and proprietary ERP systems and proprietary CRM systems and...are you sensing a theme here?  Does anyone wonder why Oracle has escaped the scrutiny of the open source community all these years?  Does anyone wonder if they still will?
  • The most insightful quote came from Zend Technologies CMO Mark de Visser, who said "This is a hostile takeover in the open-source world, and that is bound to happen again. What we're learning here is that the rules of capitalism apply as much to the open-source world as they do to the rest of the world.''  Amen to that.
  • Apparently, the irony of "Unbreakable" is lost on Oracle...

Well, I don't expect Microsoft to drop from the "Public Enemy #1" role to the open source community just yet, I am really anxious to see how people react to this in the long term.  Boycotts?  Pictures of Larry Ellison stealing Linus Torvalds' lunch money?  Or maybe the opposite will happen.  Maybe Oracle will spin it the way IBM does with Eclipse and those patents they give away.  We'll just have to wait and see--safely from the sidelines on this one! :)


{Audioslave - Revelations}