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Red Hat's Ceylon will get up Oracle's nose Featured

As the Linux market gets crowded with more and more players, the control of standards becomes important; that's how one gains marketshare and outwits rivals.

That is the only reason that one could possibly assign for Red Hat releasing a language called Ceylon to compete with Java. Ceylon was first called a Java killer when news of its being planned was leaked via presentation slides but that description was quickly toned down; after all, nobody wants to poke a stick in the hornets' nest that is Oracle, not openly anyway.

Companies that are using Linux to make money are often both competitors and partners. Oracle certifies its database on Red Hat Enterprise Linux - and at the same ships it with its own Linux, called Unbreakable Linux, which is really RHEL minus the trademarks, plus a few changes here and there. Oracle also certifies its database on SUSE.

Red Hat would probably love to prevent Oracle from profiting from its own hard work in putting together RHEL but it cannot. The licensing of RHEL is what enables Oracle to take it and remove the one element that actually belongs to Red Hat and then sell it. (Another group, CentOS, provides RHEL free after stripping out the trademarks).

This obviously gives Oracle an advantage in the Linux business when it comes to RHEL. Oracle has greater reach, more clients and has been in the business longer; it can beat Red Hat on price for the same products.

Oracle also owns the assets of BEA Systems, formerly another big Java vendor. Red Hat has its own Java middleware which came with the purchase of JBoss. The JBoss application server competes directly with Oracle's WebLogic.

The one time when Red Hat did something to slow down both Oracle and CentOS was when it suddenly started releasing its kernel source with all patches pre-applied, rather than release security updates seperately. But it was only for so long; that hurdle was overcome and life went on as usual.

Oracle spent $US7.4 billion on buying Sun Microsystems only because of Java. It got rid of a lot of other open source projects that came with the purchase which it did not think could be monetised. Its first bid to make money off Google by taking the search company to court for allegedly copying parts of Java failed. (Oracle has appealed the verdict.)

Given this, Red Hat's release of Ceylon is quite provocative. (The name was formerly used for the island of Sri Lanka; Java is an island off Indonesia. Ceylon was famous for its tea, Java for its coffee. Engineers have a strange sense of humour).

There are many millions of Java developers and it is inconceivable that people will switch to Ceylon overnight. Microsoft tried to unseat Java with C#, and much later Google pushed something called Go. Java is still very much king.

Nevertheless, Ceylon is an irritant. Red Hat has enormous cred in the free software and open source world while Oracle's name among those groups is something akin to mud. A lot of software adoption happens due to personal equations, no matter what engineers say.

Whether it's Java or Ceylon, the source is open; what matters is that whoever controls the dominant language controls the direction of development. And that is important in a market where the number of the various UNIX servers that are being moved to Linux are decreasing and any more gains will have to come from cannibalising the marketshare of other companies.

Imae: Courtesy Ceylon language site

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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