Ubuntu comes knocking on Oracle's door

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Ubuntu comes knocking on Oracle's door

Canonical has stated that its Ubuntu Server needs increased support from independent software vendors and system builders.

"The acid test for Ubuntu Server is Oracle," Canonical chief executive Mark Shuttleworth told www.vnunet.com in an interview at the VMworld 2007 conference in San Francisco.

Ubuntu is best known for its desktop Linux distribution which Dell ships on its consumer Linux desktop PCs, but the group is seeing increasing interest in its server version that was launched in 2005.

Certification for third-party applications such as Oracle's database is considered critical for the continued growth of Canonical's support services.

Firms that seek professional support typically also require that their software and hardware are certified to run the Linux distribution.

Ubuntu Server is different from Red Hat and Novell because the software is not sold as a subscription with support. Support is available from Canonical, the project's corporate sponsor.

Increased vendor support could boost Ubuntu's overall credibility. Oracle's support for Linux in 1998 is considered a watershed moment in the history of the open source operating system.

As Oracle's database is the most widely used mission-critical enterprise application available, its support instilled a new level of trust in Linux.

But the enterprise software giant might not be as eager to throw its weight behind Ubuntu.

Oracle launched its Unbreakable Linux initiative last year, which is essentially a special Oracle distribution of the open source operating system. This renders Ubuntu a potential competitive threat.

Oracle might not be able to hold out for long, however. Although Shuttleworth typified adoption rates as being at an "early stage", he claimed that the software is penetrating deeper into the enterprise.

Enterprise adoption of Ubuntu Server is following a pattern typical to open source software. Technology enthusiasts start experimenting at home, then deploy it on non-mission critical systems such as file and print servers.

Ubuntu Server is currently starting to move up the chain in areas such as high performance computing, but the final missing piece is support from hardware vendors.

Sun Microsystems is currently the only major system builder which certifies its hardware for Ubuntu.

But Shuttleworth argued that Ubuntu can put firms in touch with the open source community. Red Hat and Novell, in comparison, position themselves as a platform provider offering a one-stop shop.

"We have to leverage our insight into how open source really works," said Shuttleworth. "We do not see ourselves as the sole platform provider. We are leaner [than Red Hat or Novell]."

Novell and Red Hat, for instance, emphasise that they provide only one version of their software, which makes it easier for independent software vendors and hardware makers to support and certify their products.

Ubuntu addresses these needs by periodically freezing one of its releases and promising long-term support. The first long-term release version was unveiled in June 2006, and a second is slated for April 2008.

Canonical offers commercial support for its software, but the majority of its revenues come from the creation of custom Linux distributions for use with embedded applications.

The company also creates 'gold disks' for firms that seek a customised Linux installation that they can install on a large number of servers or desktops.

Canonical is in the process of developing a mobile distribution for cellphone makers, and unveiled a special distribution for use in virtual appliances on 11 September.

The firm also plans to pitch Ubuntu Server against Red Hat and Novell by following a different development path.

Ubuntu is trying not to fall for the feature bloating trap, according to Rick Clark, manager for Canonical's server team.

"We have to make sure that everything we put in there is appropriate," Clark told www.vnunet.com. "We can learn from Red Hat's mistakes."

Red Hat Enterprise Server, for instance, offers a graphical user interface and MP3 player, two features that would appeal mostly to desktop users.

Debian's packing structure, on which is Ubuntu based, allows developers to leave out rarely used features, but make them available for automatic download if they are needed.

For the upcoming Gutsy Gibbon release of Ubuntu Server, meanwhile, developers are focusing on security and interoperability with Windows systems.

Due on 18 October, the software will allow users to more easily connect to Microsoft's Active Directory as well as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol standard that allows users to find sources on a network.

The software will also introduce App Armor, a technology which Clark claims is more secure than the SELinux standard because it allows users to isolate processes.

This could prevent a hacker who targets the web server from gaining access to the customer database or other parts of the system, for instance.
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