Recently, we reported that Oracle is to support Red Hat Linux. Red Hat Linux customers will be able to easily and quickly switch from Red Hat support to Oracle support - which will cost about half the price. Oracle also plans to clone Red Hat's Linux based on the source code produced by the company, as opposed to creating their own Linux distribution. Or, at least, that is how things will start out.

How has the computing industry reacted to this? Well, although companies like Dell, HP and IBM have long enjoyed a very lucrative relationship with Red Hat (Dell even invested in Red Hat) the server makers seem to have embraced and celebrated Oracle's move into Linux support. Michael Dell, the Chairman of Dell, said in a statement that "Dell will use Oracle to support Linux operating systems internally"; Mark Hurd of HP said of it that "HP welcomes the addition of Oracle's Unbreakable Linux program to the portfolio"; the blue suits at IBM said "IBM shares Oracle's goal of making Linux a reliable, highly standard, cost effective platform for mission critical applications backed by world class support."

Gartner is urging users to test Oracle's Linux support: they are recommending that Red Hat customers should perform compatibility tests and pilot one or two mission critical systems on Oracle's new Unbreakable Linux support. They also note that there has been increasing user dissatisfaction with Red Hat's support.

Gartner has previously stated that Red Hat users will likely face increasing support and service problems as Linux-based mission-critical systems become more complex. Users have also told us that neither Red Hat nor Oracle has been quick to resolve problems with Oracle Database 10g database management system (DBMS) implementations such as Real Application Clusters (RAC), often resulting in finger-pointing. And as the number of unresolved problems and the perceived unresponsiveness of Red Hat have increased, so has user dissatisfaction with Red Hat's subscription price. As a result, many Red Hat users have moved to UNIX or to an alternative Linux, such as Novell's SUSE.

Oracle's entry into the Linux support market will inevitably slow Red Hat's momentum and raises doubts about its long-term viability. Just as significant, Oracle has given the growing commercial open-source vendor community a wake-up call. It is demonstrating that proprietary-licensed vendors have the means to selectively adopt open-source business models in a way that turns the tables on who is marginalizing whom.

Then there is the matter of the "Oracle Enterprise Linux" that seems to have sprung up. I downloaded and installed this Oracle Linux offering to find a distro that was basically just Red Hat Enterprise Linux with Oracle written on it. But will the two operating systems (if you can actually think of them as separate entities) stay separate? Well, Gartner believes that the two distributions will drift apart when Oracle and Red Hat issue different patches for the same flaw. It will probably not be long before "Oracle Enterprise Linux" is a completely unique OS in its own right. But what will be left of Red Hat by then?