Given Oracle’s appetite for buying companies, nobody thought twice about rumours that CEO Larry Ellison had his eye on a Linux vendor that would give his company its own Operating System.

After all, when you’ve digested a PeopleSoft or Siebel, how hard can it be to chow down on a Red Hat or Novell, or to cleanse your palate with a tidbit like Ubuntu Linux?

In the end, Ellison, in his inimical style, decided to fight, not eat. The CEO used his closing keynote at the Oracle OpenWorld Conference in San Francisco late last month to announce a plan to offer “full support” for Red Hat’s Linux distribution to both Oracle and non-Oracle customers.

“One of the key issues slowing the adoption of Linux is the lack of true enterprise support….We’d like to fix [all] that,” Ellison said, surrounded by a souped-up version of the Linux penguin logo sporting some sturdy-looking armor, and a gaggle of real penguins, who waddled onstage during the keynote.

Ellison denied that Oracle is out to kill Red Hat. “This is capitalism; we’re competing,” he said, while stressing that Oracle won’t further fragment the Linux market. “We’re not trying to differentiate from Red Hat code,” Ellison said. “We’re going to stay synchronized with the Red Hat version [of Linux].” But that’s easier said than done, according to Leigh Day, a Red Hat spokeswoman.

“We can’t certify and support an OS that has be changed or altered outside of our engineering and support groups,” Day said. “[Changes by Oracle] would make it difficult for ISVs who are certified on a particular version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.”

Oracle modifications of Red Hat Enterprise Linux will invalidate any hardware or software certifications by Red Hat, Day said. Ellison rallied some big names to voice support for its play on Red Hat, including Dell Chairman Michael Dell, who welcomed the announcement and said his company will use Oracle for its Linux support.

Red Hat did its best to throw cold water on Ellison’s fire, noting on its Web page that Oracle’s support program doesn’t extend to the Red Hat Application Stack, Cluster Server, Director Server or JBoss middleware.

Oracle and Red Hat have been on a collision course since Red Hat announced plans to buy JBoss for US$350 million. With that move, Red Hat entered the middleware market where Oracle already has a strong presence with its Fusion offering.

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