The past week has seen much in the way of musings about Linux and Oracle's role in its future. Some of the musings have included the assorted possibilities of Oracle buying Red Hat, Novell, the rights to another Linux distribution or even developing its own distribution. The fact is no-one knows what Oracle plans to do. However, there are some indisputable facts on the table which point toward Oracle buying a Linux vendor.
As one respected industry commentator pointed out, Oracle could easily develop its own Linux distribution or even buy a small distro as a core around which to develop a package for a fraction of the cost of buying either of the two big Linux vendors. However, as another commentator pointed out, there is another important factor to consider - time.
The facts on the ground are these. Red Hat, at around $6 billion, would be an expensive company to buy for an enterprise that only turns over a bit more than a couple of hundred million a year. It has a competing middleware product to Oracle, now that it has bought JBoss. And, not least, it does not have a viable Linux desktop product ready for release.
In comparison, Novell has more than one billion annual revenue, of which a couple of hundred of million come from its open source products, including Linux distro Suse. It also has arguably the best and most advanced desktop Linux product in Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). True in the Linux server market, it runs well behind Red Hat. However, the desktop is the El Dorado that no Linux distro has been able to crack and at present SLED looks to have the best chance.
Novell, at about $3 billion,is also a far cheaper buy than Red Hat. It is true, as one pundit pointed out, that Oracle could pick up or develop its own distro for much less than that. However, how much time and effort would it take to get it to the level of SLED? Quite some time is the answer. And, in the desktop operating system market, time is of the essence. Microsoft has not released a new Windows desktop operating system for nearly five years and delays in Vista until at least the first quarter of 2007 has opened the way for a competing Linux distro to make a charge. Novell intends to do this with SLED.
However, Novell is a company under pressure. It barely made a profit last quarter and it's market value is rock bottom. Some may not think it to be worth $3 billion right now, but in the hands of the right buyer, it could eventually be worth many times that. If that buyer happened to be Oracle, then it would be the first company with a virtually complete software stack from server to the desktop. And it would have that immediately - at least six months and maybe more than Microsoft is ready to hit the market with Vista. Oracle would not be able to have that sort of time advantage if it decided to go with another distro or do its own.
Novell has flagged the first production release of SLED 10.0 for the end of June. If Ellison is to declare his hand in the Linux operating system market then it is likely to be before then. Novell has indicated that it wants to move closer to Oracle. In a very short time, we'll all know if the attraction is mutual.