The one thing Larry's cash can't buy

Larry Ellison clearly understands Linux much better than his counterpart in Redmond but he still seems to struggle with some concepts
Written by Leader , Contributor

Larry Ellison is likely to come in for some flak from open source romantics who will take umbrage at comments he made during Oracle's OpenWorld conference in Japan this week.

Ellison claims that IBM, Intel and Oracle developed Linux — plenty will disagree with that, although few could dispute the massive boost that Linux got when Oracle and IBM led the charge to recognise it in the late 90s. Ellison claims that Linux was not developed by a community of people who think everything should be free.

But then that depends how you define free. When the majority of the open source community uses the word 'free' they are not talking in terms of money but rather 'free' as in open. The freedoms espoused by the founders of free software and open source mean the freedom to use, study, copy, modify and redistribute software.

The overriding purpose of any public company is to return value to its shareholders, which means increasing profits and that in turn usually depends on increasing revenues. The products and services produced by the company are merely a means to an end — whether that end is Bill Gates' big house or Larry's new Jet. Proprietary software is very often caught up in these economics of turning a profit, where quality has to vie with shipment deadlines and a hundred other variables. No matter how proficient, enthusiastic and dedicated the programmers, in such as environment quality rarely if ever gets a free run unencumbered by deadlines and 100 other constraints.

Open source software, by contrast, tends to be written by people motivated, in the first instance, not so much by a pay packet as a desire to fill their own need. Let's not underestimate just what a good place to start that is. The important point to remember is that however much money is thrown at a project by Oracle, IBM and the others who are — let's face it — no strangers to intellectual property land grabs, the projects will ultimately remain free.

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