I've been asked several times since arriving in Beijing what I think about Oracle's recently announced move to support Red Hat linux cheaper than Red Hat prices it. I've certainly been vocal in the past about Oracle and their possible Linux distro. Dave Gynn and I were having this discussion before I flew to China. So here's how it lays out.
It's Good for Customers:
It is certainly going to create some perceived competition for Red Hat. r0ml has told the story of his time at Merril Lynch and his frustration with Red Hat's support and maintenance pricing. He was happy to pay maintenance on each and every machine in his server cluster. However, paying for a fixed number of support calls on each and every machine in the cluster rather than a cluster wide number of calls was a little frustrating. With competition comes creativity, and I have confidence that Red Hat will meet the pricing challenge with an appropriate customer valued offering.
It's Good for Oracle:
I was pretty vocal in the Spring and Summer about how it would be engineering inefficient for Oracle to eat the cost of maintaining an entire "forked" distro themselves. Ellison was pretty clear back in the Spring, however, that Red Hat wasn't meeting the needs of his customers with updates, etc.
Instead of living on a complete fork, Oracle will now ensure the stability of their offering to their customers by supporting them directly with the necessary patches. This is certainly less expensive than running their own distro.
It's Not Necessarilly Bad for Red Hat:
There's certainly been lots of doom and gloom voiced about Red Hat's future and speculation about whether or not Oracle wants to weaken Red Hat to acquire it. There's been lots of had wringing about the future of open source software businesses as more "big vendors" get involved.
First, Red Hat's business continues to grow at a nice pace. There are lots of new Red Hat customers (and existing customers expanding) that are not Oracle users and that still want the level of service and support provided by Red Hat. These types of customers aren't going to flock to Oracle for "cheap" support, because that's not what Oracle is actually going to be good at. As MySQL and Postgres deployments continue to grow (possibly on Red Hat linux), Oracle will also have a different set of things to worry about.
Second, it's actually an opportunity for Red Hat to re-open discussions with Oracle about providing support for Red Hat Linux that meets Oracle's needs. It would still be more engineering efficient (likely) for Red Hat engineers to do the work for Oracle. So Oracle would win, and Red Hat would continue to reap the back end (reduced) revenue, as Oracle continues to drive deployments.
Lastly, Oracle is participating in the open source community, just like IBM, Sun, Novell, and every other vendor of note. Each participates to their own needs, contributing appropriately in community. Saying that "open source software" is at risk suggests that each of these vendors has the same motives, to somehow bring down open source by turning it back into a proprietary world. That's just clearly not true, even if it were possible.