How Linux Makes Companies Smarter
The new imperative for vendors is to give customers what they want and not bother trying to lock them into no-choice relationships. They've had enough of that, thank you. Mårten Mickos, CEO of MySQL (mysql.com), believes vendors like his can help raise IT consciousness. He says, MySQL successfully sells free software (MySQL is GPLed code) because “there is more value to code you can see than to code you can't see”, adding, “We are part of a huge community of customers and other developers who are all passionate about improving the code base. Every day we are proving it is possible to have a commercial relationship that benefits free software.”
That commercial relationship still is not one that happens between the tops of the vendor and customer bureaucracies. Among big customers it happens down among the middle tiers on both sides. For MySQL, that list of customers is impressive, and it includes Nokia, Yahoo, NASA, Silicon Graphics and Cisco. Jeremy Zawody, a self-described “technical yahoo” with Yahoo Finance, says, “MySQL will penetrate the enterprise similarly to the way (Microsoft) SQL Server did, but with much greater speed. MySQL is to Oracle as Linux is to Windows. It will slowly but steadily creep up the food chain, just like Linux has.” But when I asked Mårten Mickos if MySQL is competing with Oracle yet, he said no. “We complement Oracle far more than we compete with it.”
Still, we're at a point in history where the action is clearly shifting up the stack, from operating systems and applications to data. “We think it's the information age, not the operating system age”, Larry Ellison says. “The OS manages hardware; we manage the software.”
Because more and more of that software runs on Linux, Oracle has wisely chucked its long-standing OS agnosticism and repositioned itself, alongside IBM, as one of the world's leading “Linux companies”. Wim Coekaerts (otn.oracle.com/oramag/Coekaerts.html), head of Oracle's Linux kernel team, says “Linux is really, really important to Oracle. We are very much a Linux company.” He proudly credits the work his kernel development team has contributed to helping to make Linux “enterprise class”. There is proof in the customer pudding, too. Roland Smith says:
I would say that Oracle is probably the best vendor in the marketplace, in respect to Linux. When we told our Oracle account team that we wanted to put up an Oracle database on Linux, they were all over it. They really knew what they were doing. Within a week they had us in touch with their development folks back in Redwood Shores. They had good documentation. It was easy to put up. They were patient. It was easy to run, easy to connect to. We're very happy about it.
Smart companies naturally want smart relationships. Oracle seems to be doing a good job of meeting that market demand. It should help them continue to adapt to the successes of MySQL and PostgreSQL.
Like Oracle, other vendors will need to adapt to a world where Linux and its open-source companions serve as fundamental infrastructure for IT. That infrastructure is quickly becoming as standard as two-by-fours, ten-penny nails and sheetrock screws. Vendors always will be welcome to take advantage of that infrastructure and to contribute to its improvement; but their frame of reference will shift from the abstract to the concrete—from abstract playing fields to concrete IT projects where they have something useful to contribute. When that happens, and the software industry finishes growing up, credit will finally go where it's long overdue: to the smart people who used Linux to make their companies smarter, no matter what those companies bought and sold.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
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