Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has a new best friend - and with a kind of inevitable symmetry it's his old best friend! While the flamboyant software billionaire has of late seemed more inclined to snuggle up corporately to the charms of Hewlett Packard under the leadership of Carly Fiorina or to be seen about town with hi-tech's enfant terrible Michael Dell, the true lasting friendship was with Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy - always was, always will be.
That was the underlying message at a Sun/Oracle briefing in San Francisco this week when the two companies re-affirmed their support for one another, while the two CEOs engaged on some executive badinage to demonstrate how closely their two companies were linked. 'It's all about the collaboration and integration of two arms-length companies, explained McNealy. I have a key to Larry's yacht and he has the key to our condo in Palm Springs. He hasn't used that yet.' 'I don't have much time," warned Ellison bouncing on stage. 'I have to get to my yacht and get the locks changed!'
The buddy-buddy routine was slick, seemingly genuine, but concealed an interesting dynamic between the two tycoons. In the past McNealy has used his keynote presentations at industry events to indulge in at times near rabid Microsoft denouncing. On this occasion, it was a seemingly humbler McNealy, one who admitted to mistakes and who seem happy - in public at least - to play the down to earth Texan supporting act to Ellison's top of the bill slick IT industry leader performance.
'Larry's the main attraction,' he admitted. 'That's why we've filled the room [at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art]. It's the only way you'd get me to a modern art museum. There's stuff in here that looks like stuff my kid does. You can buy that, it's a lot less expensive. What we're talking about is low cost computing. We were going to do the announcement at CostCo - but Larry doens't do CostCo!'
So what was the announcement that led Ellison - who is notorious for not turning up where he's supposed to be on any given day - to turn up five minutes before he was due on stage to take part in this corporate double act, well, it's more of the same really - Oracle software on all Sun platforms. So far, so much the same. Except the important word here is 'platforms'. Sun has become a company that used to have one platform and now has three - its own Solaris operating system running on Sparc chips, Linux and Solaris on the X86 platform, the latter of which was until recently something that apparently wasn't going to happen!
The Pauline conversion from Sun is at least in part attributable to Ellison, according to McNealy. 'He's one of my mentors,' he said. 'We kinda waffled on the subject of X86. We hinted that we might not do Solaris 9 on Sparc and X86 andI had people taking out space in a newspaper telling me how brain dead I was. I had dinner with Larry and he confirmed that for me.'
'We are totally committed to Unix. We are the only vendor who is not backing away from it. HP and IBM's unix users are being abandoned. IBM is heading for Linux and HP is heading for Microsoft. People say we're not into Linux, but we are committed to it. We're the only ones not committed to Windows. We are the bacon in the breakfast.'
Along with the platform support, there will also be closer integration between Sun's Star Office applications and Oracle's Collaboration Suite - both of which could do with a pick-up. Indeed, the integration may go further if hints and a little grin from Oracle's chief marketing officer Mark Jarvis are to be believed. Maybe Star Office as part of Oracle eBusiness Suite (or whatever it ends up being called after the forthcoming name change!) is not such a bizarre idea.
'When our competitors talk about Oracle and Sun they say that we run on big, expensive computers, They admit we're faster, they admit we're better, the only thing they can hit us on is that we cost too much. Scott and I are abandoning high cost computing,' boasted Ellison. 'I was told a long time ago that Bill Gates was the smartest guy in the world - at that time I was the fifth smartest guy in the world! In 1964, I was in college, IBM invented the mainframe and the Beach Boys were singing about Malibu. Forty years later and Microsoft announces the Windows mainframe. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys are heading for Redmond to announce the rediscovery of the mainframe. '
'Microsoft has always stood on the shoulders of giants,' he added. 'When they did the user interface, they stood on the shoulders of Apple. This time I think they broke into the IBM research labs to see what was happening, but they had the map upside down. Instead of research and development they got into the museum and reinvented the mainframe. Oracle and Sun are talking about low cost computing and Microsoft is asking have you considered a mainframe? We just changed places on the dance floor!'
Since there is such symmetry between the two companies, why don't they just get on with it and merge? 'Are you the guy who's going to buy us?' asked McNealy of Ellison. 'I just want to get my yacht keys back,' replied Ellison. 'I'd do anything to get that!'