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Oracle and Linux: How about Ubuntu?

Industry pundits mull over the possibilities following recent comments by Oracle's Larry Ellison that he might like to have a version of Linux all for his very own.

While eyes were drawn to Novell Inc. as a potential acquisition target for Oracle Corp., a far less expensive Linux distribution was also mentioned as a better fit for the database giant-turned-open-source advocate.

The distribution is Ubuntu, the most popular Linux flavor, according to the user community site Ubuntu is a desktop Linux version, based on Debian GNU/Linux, and is sponsored by Isle of Man-based Canonical Ltd. The name comes from the South African concept of Ubuntu -- roughly, "humanity toward others."

Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and CEO, recently made some public comments about wanting his own version of Linux for Oracle. Snapping up Ubuntu would not only save Ellison and Oracle a considerable amount of money, it would also eliminate some of the headaches associated with trying to integrate a company like Novell.

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"Buying Novell would put Oracle into the top three [for the software stack space], so it kind of makes sense in that regard. But the other [Novell] products like NetWare wouldn't make sense. Oracle just wants to add the OS, so Ubuntu Linux would make a lot more sense than Novell," said Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst with Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah, consulting firm.

Ubuntu also boasts one of the largest community bases of all the Linux distributions, called the Ubuntu Forums, which contain more than 67,000 unique registered users. Monson-Haefel said he believes Oracle could effectively tap into this popularity and use it alongside Ubuntu's desktop and server side aspects to design a truly complete software stack.

A full software stack similar to Microsoft's that includes both OS and applications is something the outspoken Ellison has said Oracle is pursuing, particularly in light of Red Hat Inc.'s purchase of JBoss Inc. earlier this month.

"It's a natural move for Oracle to expand its offering beyond just databases, middleware and applications, especially if it wants to go head-on against Microsoft, its biggest rival," said Noel Yuhanna, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

Oracle has already expressed an interest in open source and Linux in the past -- including building a cluster file system and working with Red Hat to improve performance and reliability. Making the OS part of its own would be a natural extension, Yuhanna said. "With Oracle continuing to lose its database market share on Windows to Microsoft, and with SQL Server gaining momentum, Oracle has to choose another battlefield where Microsoft does not play, which is why Linux becomes an even more strategic play for Oracle," Yuhanna added.

Another expert said he thinks the acquisition of Novell or Red Hat would be smarter for Oracle.

"With the Linux market rapidly maturing, buying a company like Novell or Red Hat would make more strategic sense than creating a freestanding Linux distribution, and it also fits into the company's acquisition history," said Charles King, founder of Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif.

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