Oracle: The new industry bad boy? Pt II

Part II: More than sour grapes?

Over the years, Oracle's Ellison has been one of the industry's most vocal Microsoft critics, arguing that the company is a bully peddling yesterday's software. But the old adage about what goes around, comes around is starting to apply to Ellison's own company, the Microsoft database-benchmark squabble notwithstanding. Indeed, competitors are voicing increasing irritation at Oracle, taking issue with the style and substance of its claims.

Enterprise software vendor SAP recently issued a rare attack-dog-style press release to refute a claim that Oracle is now the world's largest application software company. (Interestingly, Waggener Edstrom, which happens to be Microsoft's public relations firm, also represents SAP.)

And IBM -- which competes head-to-head with Oracle in the database, tools and middleware markets -- has bristled at Oracle's claims of world dominance. While IBM officials in the past seldom publicly struck out at competitors, these days, IBM software group's top brass are taking care to distance themselves from Ellison & Co.

Relations turned increasingly sour earlier this year after Big Blue discovered that Oracle was making a full court press to woo IBM's own customers.

"When we found out that Ray Lane and Larry Ellison were going around in a jet to steal every IBM customer they could -- and they were succeeding -- that's when the gloves came off," according to a former IBM official.

That disenchantment only added to the competitive rivalry that developed in the aftermath of Oracle's push into enterprise software and electronic business, coveted markets where the company knocks heads with IBM. The ex-official said IBM was also sore because it believed Oracle "enjoyed a much higher profile than they deserve. They co-opted the whole idea of e-business that (IBM chief executive) Gerstner pioneered. And it's ticked people off."

Personal, not business? Ellison's ego may be catching up with him at last, say company watchers. "The problem is that Larry Ellison is fixated on Bill Gates, while Bill Gates is fixated on the market," concluded one software developer, who requested anonymity. "Oracle may have influenced the database market, but Microsoft has changed the world."

World-changing or not, Microsoft admits it now has some work to do if it intends to reestablish itself as king of the TPC hill.

The TPC-C benchmark is an industry-standard test that measures transaction-processing-system throughput, in terms of orders processed per minute. As such, the TPC-C rating is of great interest to companies looking to purchase the most scalable systems for e-commerce and other high-transaction applications.

Microsoft claims its benchmark results were invalidated because the Transaction Processing Council "changed its rules, midstream".

Charles Levine, group manager with Microsoft's performance engineering team, said: "There have been a number of benchmarks published in the past six years by Oracle that either don't meet [the new data-transparency requirements] or were never tested for them."

Microsoft is working with Compaq to retest the latest version of its SQL Server 2000 product. Officials say the company has since added the data-transparency feature that resulted in the Transaction Processing Council's decision to throw out the February results. SQL Server 2000 is expected to go gold in the next month or two.

"Any company can bring forth a challenge of any [TPC] results. We voted [last week] to allow for public statements about the noncompliance [of the Microsoft-Compaq results], and the fact is that those results are immediately withdrawn," said TPC chairman Buggert.

"Oracle, Compaq and Microsoft will all have things to say about this," Buggert predicted.

In the meantime, the chorus of voices with things to say about Oracle is on the rise.

Late last week, Zona Research, a market-watch organization, bluntly slammed Oracle's covert intelligence program against Microsoft, drawing parallels with the McCarthy period and Watergate.

"A great deal has been said over the last few months regarding the need to protect businesses and consumers from Microsoft," Zona wrote in a research note. "Oracle's statement regarding [the detective agency it hired] and the reprehensible acts that inspired it leave us wondering just who will protect us from companies such as Oracle."

Strong stuff. Ellison, who has been pressed into service to contain the PR fallout from "Trash-gate", now faces a more formidable challenge: convincing the industry that he's not the second coming of his old adversary, Bill Gates.

Charles Cooper of ZDNet News contributed to this report.

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