OSCON Oracle's assault on Linux looks to take the shape of a fork in the near future, according to Canonical founder and Ubuntu chief Mark Shuttleworth.
"They must be on track to fork soon," he told us, during an interview here at OSCON. "They are hiring too many people just to deliver patches. My assumption is that they are on track to fork and build their own distribution."
Thus far, Oracle's dalliance with Linux has centered on providing lower-cost support services for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So, you will find an OS called Oracle Enterprise Linux, although this is really just a version of the open source operating system that Oracle tries to keep as up-to-date as possible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Or, as they company says in an FAQ, "Oracle will track the Red Hat distribution closely to ensure compatibility for users."
Shuttleworth, however, sees Oracle gearing up for its own, full-fledged version of Linux that would compete with software from Red Hat, Novell and others. Under such a plan, Oracle would very likely keep its Red Hat compatibility in place, while working to grab hold of new accounts with Ego Linux, as it will surely be known.
"I think it would be great," Shuttleworth said.
And we happen to agree, given that Novell seems a rather ineffectual competitor against Red Hat.
Shuttleworth came to Portland for a number of other reasons than to speculate on Oracle's plans. Namely, he led the Ubuntu Live conference held in conjunction with OSCON.
Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, highlighted a pair of packages during its gig.
First off, customers with a support contract will find Landscape – a web-based systems management tool. The software does what you might expect, delivering notices of security and tool updates as soon as they go live. Customers can then choose whether to send those updates to specific machines or to groups of boxes. You also get reports on what new software has been installed and on the makeup of hardware running Ubuntu in a given network.
Then there's the Launchpad Personal Package Archive (PPA).
"Individuals and teams can each have a PPA, allowing groups to collaborate on sets of packages, and solo developers to publish their own versions of popular free software," Canonical said. "Developers upload packages to a PPA and have it built for multiple architectures against the current version of Ubuntu. Each user gets up to one gigabyte of Personal Package Archive space, which works as a standard Ubuntu software package repository. Free PPAs are available only for free ('libre') software packages."
At present, PPA is only available in beta. You can register for the software here or wait for its release in late August.
Lastly, we saw an early glimpse of the Compiz graphics software that will ship as a default feature in the "Gutsy" release of Ubuntu in October. The Compiz software looks to give Ubuntu all the razzle-dazzle present in Mac OS X and Vista.
And now back to Shuttleworth.
Shuttleworth stands as a very troubling figure from our point of view. It's very difficult to be cynical about a man who got rich and then decided to use his wealth to bring free software to the masses. Hell, he's even been to space, which stands as a redeeming quality in any circle that touches on the geek.
The man proves charming enough in person. He's got a laid back manner. He's polite. He answers questions directly. He seems to have the ego well in check.
Still, we're pretty sure a dark backroom exists at the Canonical headquarters where Shuttleworth personally oversees the torture of caged wombats and penguins. If pushed, we'd swear that he delights in gluing the poor creatures together.
If Shuttleworth is, in fact, not abusing cute animals, then he's been busy denying Microsoft's advances to sign a Novell/XenSource/Linspire-like intellectual property and collaboration deal.
"They have approached us, but there is just no way we would accept the terms," he said. "Everything suggests those deals were entered into on terms that would be unacceptable to our community and to us."
Shuttleworth urged that it's crucial not "to paint a company as evil." However, he did say that Microsoft has an "extortion habit that simply won't go anymore."
It's Shuttleworth's vast wealth that, in part, lets him ignore Microsoft's overtures. And it's that same wealth which inspired Shuttleworth to take on the languishing Linux desktop in the first place.
"I am in the very lucky position that I've tasted what it's like not to work," he said. "I get very bored.
"So, there is this very big mountain that has never been climbed before [making a Linux distro that grandma can use], and it's daunting, but, as a result, I respect it. I don't dabble. I take it seriously. If you're going to the climb the mountain, you should do it damn well."
Is that what you tell the penguins, Mark? Is that what you tell them when their eyes swell with tears made of blood? ®