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But why should Oracle buy a Linux distro? One reason could be Oracle's Linux strategy hasn't really moved on from the ubiquitous "unbreakable Linux" ads that appear - and are booked to keep appearing - in the pages and on the back covers of BusinessWeek and The Economist, and on billboards up and down the 101 freeway that runs through the heart of Silicon Valley (past Oracle's campus.)

Oracle's Linux message was certainly in need of some headline grabbing attention. And recent attempts by the company to remind everybody it has a Linux strategy have appeared, well, a little ungracious. Larry unsubtly reminded the community that Linux and open source "don't just happen" but instead have relied heavily on corporate patronage from IBM, Oracle and Intel.

Oracle doesn't really need a distro, making this argument something of a red herring. Why should it buy an operating system when it can rely on partners like Red Hat and Novell to take responsibility for R&D of the distro themselves?

The only possible justification is if Oracle feels that by owning the operating system, it can also "own" a growing number of open source software developers. These developers can then help drive integration between the distro and Oracle's applications. Owning the operating system would certainly confirm the view Oracle is working towards an open- and closed-source stack that is certified to work together.

If this is Oracle's strategy, then Novell is certainly in the running. Analyst firm Evans Data Corp said Novell is second only to Red Hat in terms of mind share among developers when it comes to open source. EDC found Novell mentioned by 10.5 per cent of developers in its latest survey, with Red Hat first on 11.7 per cent in what is a "deeply fragmented" open source market. IBM and Sun Microsystems also scored favorably, the analyst firm said, noting all four are poised for "tremendous gains."

If you're gonna buy someone, it makes sence to ensure that that someone has an installed base you can monetize and grow. Novell's rather embattled CEO Jack Messman who refused to comment on Larry's unguarded words of an acquisition by Oracle, has "predicted" Red Hat's deal with JBoss would lead to a, err, "closer" relationship with Oracle.

Of course, publicly listed companies never comment on rumors about mergers and acquisitions. However, they will start rumors and speculation when it suits. Which leads onto the timing of Larry's comments and explains why talk of a distro is something of a smoke screen designed to hide what really happened.

Sources tell The Register that Oracle was in the running to buy JBoss, only the deal faltered because there was a clash of personalities. Apparently, one reason JBoss' chief executive Marc Fleury spurned Oracle was the manner of the corporate courtship. Oracle sent the suits - excluding Larry - over to Atlanta, Georgia, where JBoss is based, while Red Hat's senior management skipped over the boarder from North Carolina to meet Fleury and negotiate the deal.

Larry was within his CEO rights to keep mum on the whole affair and let it slip into the unrecorded annals of history, as a possible acquisition that was just a rumor. However, it seems the CEO's decision to speak out was motivated by more of a personal score. And who can blame him for being miffed? As Larry himself noted recently, open source has set the stakes high for Oracle.

Larry had hoped he could bring home JBoss to help Oracle win in the open source middleware market. Commenting on rumors of Oracle buying JBoss in February, Ellison had explained the rational for the purchase saying: "Rather than fight this open-source trend we think it's important to figure out ways to make it work to our advantage."

Losing JBoss to Red Hat means Oracle has lost a key ingredient in the Java platform providers' battle to turn open source to its advantage. Oracle has lost a low-footprint, free application server that would have served as an entry point to its bigger enterprise-class product. That, after all, is why IBM bought Gluecode last summer. And that's why Oracle entertained talks with JBoss, so JBoss could serve the same purpose for Oracle.

So, who can blame Larry for trying to put the freeze on Red Hat?®

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