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Oracle Urges Red Hat To Give Away Its Product

There would be more migrations from Unix database servers to Linux if Red Hat made its product available for free, Oracle's chief Linux technologist said.
Asked how the two initiatives are faring, Coekaerts said both are thriving but he wasn't allowed to disclose numbers for either one. Oracle has been offering Unbreakable Linux support since November 2006, when Larry Ellison announced it during Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco. Officials for both Red Hat and Novell claim it's made no discernible impact on their support revenue. "We never see it," said Markus Rex, senior VP and general manager of open platforms solutions at Novell.

But Coekaerts said Oracle Enterprise Linux was winning converts and Oracle was thriving providing Linux technical support. Oracle customers count on the database vendor to quickly fix bugs. He cited a case "way before the relationship went wrong, so to speak," when Oracle tried to get Red Hat to incorporate a bug fix that it had made in January 2006 into RHEL 4.2 or 4.3. The company responded it had just "frozen" its distribution and it would be July before it could release the next update. The bug randomly threatened proper I/O execution, he said.

"That was one of the reasons" Oracle launched Unbreakable Linux a few months later, he said.

In previous interviews, Red Hat engineering spokesmen acknowledged occasional disagreements with Oracle on how quickly a bug fix could be incorporated into a RHEL distribution during that time period, but Red Hat's Joel Berman, product management director, said such differences were inevitable between vendors of two large, independent products. He did not recall an incident in which Oracle database operations were threatened by their refusal to make an immediate bug fix.

Coekaerts insisted Oracle's Unbreakable Linux "is a very popular program. Most of the popularity is in the Oracle customer base." But he also returned several times to the theme that Oracle is viewed as "just taking and not giving back" and "a medieval company." He cited Linus Torvalds' recognition of Oracle's contributions to the Linux kernel as proof that "it's a misconception that we take but don't give back."

Coekaerts appeared on stage with Ellison as Unbreakable Linux was announced. He is a native of Belgium who is part of the original Linux brain trust. He can still remember the e-mail message sent out by Linus Torvalds seeking outside help on his embryonic operating system, patterned on Minix.

Linux became his hobby in college. Coekaerts joined Oracle's technical support team in Belgium in 1995, moved to Oracle's offices in Redwood Shores, Calif., in 1999 and found himself advising the team responsible for porting Oracle to Linux. He switched to full time Oracle/Linux engineering as the importance of the version on Linux grew and is now Oracle's chief technical spokesman.