Open source needs big vendors to thrive: Ellison

Linux and other open source products wouldn't be where they are today without the backing of big proprietary software vendors, says Oracle's CEO. Martyn Williams reports

The success of Linux and other open source projects has depended heavily on the support and investment of major IT companies, Oracle chief executive Officer Larry Ellison says.

"Open source becomes successful when major industrial corporations invest heavily in that open source project," Ellison said at a news conference at Oracle's recent OpenWorld conference inTokyo. "Every open source product that has become tremendously successful became successful because of huge dollar investments from commercial IT operations like IBM and Intel and Oracle and others."

He highlighted his own company's work in developing and promoting Linux and noted that the open source operating system wouldn't have enjoyed the success that it has without vendor backing.

"There's a lot of romantic notions about open source," Ellison says. "Let me tell you the names of the companies that developed Linux: IBM, Intel, Oracle — not a community of people who think everything should be free. Open source is not a communist movement."

Some analysts have credited Linux 's success to support from big vendors, notably IBM's decision in 2000 to invest US$1 billion (NZ$1.5 billion) in the operating system. Still, Ellison's remarks are sure to rile the open source community, which will point to open source programs that became widely used on the internet under their own steam, such as the Apache web server.

Oracle has more developers working on Linux than Red Hat does, Ellison says. Oracle's work has included developing a clustered file system for Linux, he adds. Oracle also holds a majority stake in Tokyo-based Miracle Linux, which created the Asianux Linux distribution with companies in South Korea and China.

Oracle has also been acquiring open source vendors in recent months. In February it bought database vendor Sleepycat Software and last year it bought Finland's Innobase. Both companies make transactional storage engines used with MySQL's open source database and the buys have promptedg speculation that Oracle is trying to undermine MySQL's business.

Ellison denied any such intentions at the OpenWorld conference and played down MySQL's status as an Oracle rival. Oracle has talked to MySQL in the past about a possible acquisition but the company is no longer "near the top of our list," he says.

"We've spoken to them, in fact we've spoken to almost everyone.

"Are we interested? It's a tiny company. I think the revenues from MySQL are between US$30 million and US$40 million. Oracle's revenue next year is US$15 billion."

MySQL is privately held and does not report its financial results publicly.

"I'll think you'll see us buy components that make business sense and add technology and do things that our software doesn't do," Ellison says. "[With regard to] MySQL, never say never, but it's not near the top of our list."

Oracle has reportedly been in talks to buy open source developer JBoss.

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