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Oracle OpenWorld: Benioff and the sarcastic clicker of doom

6th Oct 2011
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“Next slide please – oh wait, I have a clicker!”

An innocent enough sounding phrase perhaps but in context it was tantamount to a declaration of war. 
Ousted at the eleventh hour from his keynote address to the dissenters at Oracle OpenWorld – scuttlebutt suggests on orders from the very, very top! – CEO Marc Benioff set out his stall in the restaurant of a hotel, complete with 'protestors' outside (all of whom bore a striking resemblance to staffers!). 
“This is the first restaurant I’ve spoken in,” he joshed at one point, lamenting that he wasn’t allowed to deliver his address to what is effectively a 'fringe meeting’ in the Novellus Theatre next to San Francisco’s mighty Moscone Centre which this week is hosting Oracle OpenWorld – which may or may not be bigger than’s Dreamforce, depending on how (and who) you count. 
Unfortunately OpenWorld closed for Benioff on Tuesday when his scheduled – and paid for to the tune of $1 million – slot was rescinded with the offer of an 8am slot on Thursday instead– where presumably those OpenWorld delegates not suffering from the conference party on the Wednesday evening might have stumbled into on their return from Treasure Island and the mellifluous tones of Sting.
But back to that clicker – and why it hurts. On Sunday evening, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison wandered through a conference opening keynote that consisted of him reading from tele-prompter screens and barking ‘next slide please’ every few minutes.
It was, for experienced Oracle watchers, a far cry from the leonine figure who prowled the stage free range at previous conferences setting the IT world to rights. 
Down at the end of Market Street, Benioff clearly thought the same, impudently tweeting of his former mentor that a “low bar” had been set for his own keynote to compete against.  It was a remark that he has seemingly come to regret – up to a point. 
“I apologise for Larry for the comment,” he said. “That was a mistake I made. I apologise for that comment and I am sorry that I upset him. I was just being competitive and I upset him.  I have sent him an apology note as well.”
But Benioff added: “He did train me. I’m just trying to be a good student and do what he would have done in a similar situation. He does a good job of putting his competitors on the spot which he has done this week with his comments about Autonomy. That’s an aggressive move, but Larry’s about aggressive moves.  That’s why I was disappointed. This is just tennis. We hit the ball back and forth across the net and that’s all it is.“
In fact, Benioff argued, Ellison is pretty much aligned to the vision, but it’s an alignment that dare not speak its name.  “Larry was one of the first investors in,” argued Benioff. “He’s actually a huge believer in our model. He believes in Cloud Computing. He owns 75% in NetSuite. I don’t know if he still holds his stock in – I hope he does for his sake.  But he can’t sell this model at this conference because there is not money in it for Oracle. Larry is doing the right thing for his shareholders because he’s selling hardware and software.  I’m not.”
So after the events of the past 24 hours, will be pitching camp at OpenWorld next year? Benioff suggested that it will probably be the last time, but added:  "I don’t know – that’s up to Larry…my guess is that was our swan song.
With Ellison due up on the main conference stage a few hours later, it might not be long until we find out...
But perhaps the final word on the whole affair to date can be summed up by Benioff's view of Oracle's actions: "They should just have ignored me. Nobody would have cared."
But they didn't. 

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