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SAN FRANCISCO—While Oracle is pitching its support for Red Hat Linux as a way to broaden the market for Linux adoption—and indeed that may well be the outcome—there is no shortage of controversy surrounding Oracle’s move to take on Red Hat.

The issues: Though the Linux code is open source, Oracle does not have direct access to upgrade and bug fix source code from Red Hat, the leading Linux vendor in the world.

At the same time, while Oracle denies the case, there is a question as to whether Oracle’s support of Red Hat Linux will represent a “fork” or splintering of the operating system.

On the latter point, Red Hat believes Oracle represents a major challenge to the Linux OS.

“The changes Oracle has stated they will make will result in a different code base than Red Hat Enterprise Linux,” said Red Hat officials on the company’s Web site, where a Q&A is posted.

“Simply put, this derivative will not be Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and customers will not have the assurance of compatibility with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux ecosystem.”

For access to Red Hat’s source code, Oracle will rely on cohorts and global Web sites.

“We have multiple sources of getting the code,” said Edward Screven, chief corporate architect of Oracle’s Linux Extreme program.

“Under GNU Public License, if you give someone binaries you must give them the source code, and there lots of people are willing to give the source code to us.”

Red Hat’s response is that there is no way to guarantee that changes made by Oracle will maintain API or ABI (application binary interface) compatibility.

“There may be material differences in the code,” Red Hat officials said. “Compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux can only be verified by Red Hat’s internal test suite.”

During his keynote address Oct. 25 at OpenWorld here—replete with live penguins toddling about the stage—Oracle CEO Larry Ellison outlined issues with Red Hat support for enterprise customers.

“There are still issues today that are slowing the adoption of Linux, and of Oracle grids running Linux,” said Ellison. “The most serious issue: true enterprise support for Linux.”

Oracle began offering support for Linux in 2002, with its Unbreakable Linux program.

Since then it has ramped up an internal team of about 100 developers and 7,000 support representatives.

The goal, according to Ellison, was to keep its enterprise customers running Linux on Oracle Grid happy.

“If there was a problem, a bug, Oracle would step up and commit to fix serious bugs in the Linux kernel—we call them Priority One,” said Ellison. “Then we give those bug fixes to customers, to Red Hat, to SuSE and many others. Not just to vendors but to customers.”

Oracle’s Screven said later that the reality is Oracle fixed many problems outside the “Priority One” parameters.

However—and not surprisingly, given the impact Oracle support will have on Red Hat’s business—Red Hat believes Oracle’s support offering will only serve to obfuscate problems for customers.

On the issue of hardware compatibility, Red Hat officials said that since Oracle has stated it will make changes to the code independently of Red Hat, the changes will not be tested during Red Hat’s hardware testing and certification process, and “may cause unexpected behavior. Hence Red Hat hardware certifications are invalidated.”

Read more here about Ellison’s views on Linux.

On the question of software compatibility and ISV certification of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat said that any independent changes Oracle makes to the code “will not be tested during Red Hat’s software testing and certification process, and may cause unexpected behavior. Hence Red Hat software certifications are invalidated.”

During an Oct. 26 Analyst Day event here, industry watchers had additional questions around Oracle’s strategy.

On whether or not Oracle plans to create a separate distribution model for ISV’s, Oracle’s Screven said he doesn’t believe a separate model is necessary.

“I don’t think taking the code that Red Hat fixes, doing some bug fixes and compiling that represents new distribution,” said Screven.

“So from an ISVs perspective, while I am sure they would appreciate additional testing in their facility, we will do that. We are very large, and we have suffered greatly with various different Linux distributions in the field.”

Regarding the question of whether Oracle plans to take the Linux operating system up-stack into its infrastructure layer, particularly to reach midmarket customers, Screven answered in the affirmative.

“I definitely think this gives us more opportunity in the midmarket,” said Screven.

“It clearly gives us an entree that we wouldn’t have if we had to rely on Red Hat. The model that you upgrade and connect is very appealing and one we want to exploit with our other software.”

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