Redwood Shores, Calif. - An Oracle press conference intended as a showcase for its Oracle Internet Application Server 8i middleware offering took on a somewhat surreal aspect Wednesday, as company CEO Larry Ellison was peppered with questions on the company's admitted role in a private investigation intended to uncover material unfavorable to Microsoft.
The firm did manage to get some news in about a host of mid-tier software offerings before the deluge of Microsoft-related questions carried the day. Ellison was unflappable and apparently unrepentant.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters jammed into a conference room at Oracle headquarters, Ellison was unapologetic as he defended his company's decision to hire Washington-based Investigative Group International (IGI) to uncover the financial connection between Microsoft and several lobbying and trade groups.
"It is absolutely true that we set out to expose Microsoft's covert activities," Ellison said. "Microsoft has been spending a tremendous amount of money on these organizations... and we thought it was important to get that information out."
At one point, Ellison described the undertaking as "a civic duty."
Ellison produced what he called "a cheat sheet," from which he read the names of organizations to which he said Microsoft gave substantial amounts of money. The list included the Association for Competitive Technologies, Americans for Technology Leadership, the Independent Institute, the National Taxpayers' Union, and Citizens for a Sound Economy.
"These organizations pretended to be independent, pretended to represent American citizens and taxpayers and America's technology industry, but they were none of the above. [These organizations] did not exist until the Microsoft antitrust trial. They were bought and paid for by Bill Gates and [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer," he asserted.
Ellison charged that these organizations published "bogus polls and false economic reports," which asserted "whatever was good for Microsoft was good for America."
"It was our intent to expose that...Microsoft is creating front organizations," Ellison said, "and there's no reason for us to deny that. We believe in full disclosure. I feel very good about telling you what we did."
The financial ties between Microsoft and two of the groups -- the Independence Institute and the National Taxpayers Union -- were previously reported by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. In a prepared statement issued yesterday, Oracle admitted to hiring IGI after the publication of newspaper reports that investigators tried to pay two cleaning women $1,200 for trash from the Association for Competitive Technology.
Ellison claimed that, although he was aware that his company was looking into Microsoft's connection with these organizations, he learned the details of IGI's activities only yesterday. Although he allowed that IGI might have engaged in activities that were "unsavory" and (in the case of the trash picking) "unhygienic," he emphasized that his company had broken no laws, nor had it instructed IGI to break any laws.
"What we did was perfectly legal," he said. He added, chiding reporters, "People like you are supposed to expose this stuff... We're just trying to help."
Ellison's appearance was preceded by product announcements and demos. The press conference was originally scheduled to brief reporters and analysts on the latest developments in Oracle's Internet Platform, which included the introduction of two new products: the Oracle Internet Application Server 8i (Oracle iAS) and the Oracle Internet Developer Suite.
Oracle executive vice president Gary Bloom, who described the two products as "the finishing touches" on Oracle's Internet Platform, opened the conference. Bloom called the product announcements "the culmination" of Oracle's ongoing efforts to provide everything needed to operate an e-business. Oracle's Internet and e-business offerings are complete and available today, Bloom said.
Oracle iAS and Oracle Internet Developer Suite each combine in single packages integrated collections of products that perform functions previously available only through multiple products from multiple vendors. The application server, Oracle iAS, includes a range of middleware and server-based application functionality, including dynamic data caching, component services in the form of Enterprise Java Beans, and portal services. The tools suite includes a Web-based report builder, a Web-based Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) query tool, and forms design tools.
An integral part of both iAS and the developer suite is Oracle Portal, a framework for managing hundreds of different software services for employees, trading partners, or suppliers. Web portals are "the new e-business desktop," Bloom said. Oracle's portal strategy involves blending business content, business applications, and intranet and business intelligence data to make "portlets." "You wrap port technology around a set of information to make it displayable in a single view from a browser," Bloom said. "That's a portlet."
Compaq Computer Corporation will be adopting the Oracle Internet Platform across its full line of server and storage offerings, according to Bill Heil, vice president and general manager of Compaq's business critical servers groups. Heil appeared at the conference to announce that Oracle and Compaq will be jointly optimizing and testing the Oracle platform for Compaq's ProLiant servers running Windows NT/2000, the AlphaServer running Tru64 UNIX or OpenVMS, and Himalaya running the NonStop Kernel, as well as the StorageWorks storage offerings.
The company also announced Oracle8i Release 3, which introduces new XML, Java, and security features to the company's popular database platform.
Ellison concluded the conference by saying that he has no regrets about investigating Microsoft's connection to the research groups, and that Oracle has no plans to investigate other firms.