July 20, 2012, 9:57 AM — In an absolutely sideways marketing ploy, Oracle has set its target on the CentOS distribution of Linux in the hopes of capturing more attention and revenue.
It all looks innocent enough. A new page on Oracle's site gives a nice soft pitch for Oracle Linux and how it has advantages over CentOS, the downstream version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). CentOS is free as in beer, and because it closely mirrors RHEL, it sees a lot of use in datacenters and cloud deployments, because you don't have to pay Red Hat for the support license that comes with RHEL.
Now, it would be unfair to the CentOS developers to say that their users are cheap, but I think it's a fair assertion to describe them as cost-aware. Because as good as CentOS is, it's still close enough to RHEL's jazz to make the lack of a price tag a significant differentiator.
This, then, is the target user base Oracle Linux wants to try to get. And how do they do it? By creating a script that can roll existing CentOS 5 and 6 systems over to Oracle Linux. Scientific Linux 5 and 6 users can do this, too. Download the script, run it, and bada-bing-bada-boom! You're running Oracle Linux.
I know what you're thinking. And so does Oracle, it seems. From their FAQ:
"Q. Wait, doesn't Oracle Linux cost money?
"A. Oracle Linux support costs money. If you just want the software, it's 100% free. And it's all in our yum repo at public-yum.oracle.com. Major releases, errata, the whole shebang. Free source code, free binaries, free updates, freely redistributable, free for production use. Yes, we know that this is Oracle, but it's actually free. Seriously."
And this is all true. No one is trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. So why the attempt to grab CentOS users?
There are two reasons why Oracle would love to get its version of Linux onto your servers this way.
The first, I suspect, is legitimacy. If you look at server shares of Linux in datacenter and the cloud, Oracle Linux is not usually near the top of the list. Other distros, like Ubuntu, RHEL, CentOS, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), are much more predominant, depending on the survey you are reading. CentOS shows up a lot. Wouldn't it be nice if some of those CentOS and Scientific Linux instances were replaced by Oracle Linux? That would be something for the marketers to point to.
The second reason is the upgrade scenario. CentOS users typically don't need support, but when they do, they have options to go with a third party like OpenLogic or just switching over to RHEL. By encouraging these steps, Oracle is trying to insert itself into that chain of events. Once a box has been switched over to Oracle Linux with this script and support is needed, then guess what? You'll need to go to Oracle for support… or switch to another Linux distribution.
It's actually not a bad piece of sideways marketing: with two simple command line entries, Oracle can get more server share and disrupt and even hijack the CentOS/RHEL support revenue for themselves. It reminds me of the way Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra took the FDA-mandated warning, "If Your Erection Should Last More Than 4 Hours…", and ended up using it as a marketing line.
It won't be known for a while if this technique will work, possibly ever. Certainly there are some in the community who are less than amused by this attempt.
Oracle has a lot of trust to earn in this community, and if it ever has a hope to do it, it needs to stop trying stunts like this that assume users are stupid. That's what politicians do, and look how much we trust them.
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