Oracle: The New Darth Vader?

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Everyone loves to hate an archvillain. In the tech industry, it has been clear for some time now that Microsoft is no longer up to the role -- you can't have an archvillian that keeps spouting empty threats -- so auditions have opened for a successor. Could it be Apple? Antennagate and those restictive App Store policies make its candidacy plausible. Google? Equivocation on the China issue and flirtation with deals that damage Net neutrality show promise. Facebook? Sure, but it's not exactly a tech goliath.

Then along comes Oracle. By suing Google over Android's supposed infringement on Java patents, Oracle has confirmed the worst fears of those who questioned its stewardship of Java. In one bold stroke, the company has damaged the most promising alternative to the iPhone, hastened Java's slide into legacy-hood, and thumbed its nose at the open source community -- both by enforcing Java patents and, in a flourish worthy of The Joker, deep-sixing OpenSolaris on the same day. (MySQL customers, how are you feeling right about now?)

[ See Josh Fruhlinger's analysis of Oracle's scorched-earth fight to profit from Java. | Follow Java developments with our JavaWorld Enterprise Java newsletter. ]

Such evildoing rivals a monster round of Goldman Sachs bonuses. But does Oracle in the archvillain role have legs? Outside of the tech wo

rld, nobody hears much about Oracle apart from its acquisitions: PeopleSoft, Siebel, BEA, Sun. Otherwise, Oracle keeps a pretty low profile for a $113 billion company.

Messing with the popular Android consumer play changes that a bit, particularly if the lawsuit drags on for years in the public eye. And there's plenty more, beginning with the Sun acquisition and subsequent brutal layoffs. That's part of a pattern: Around Silicon Valley Oracle is known as the Bermuda Triangle of predators, devouring all sorts of companies with promising technologies and being less than gentle with their personnel. Throw in a combative CEO, exorbitant software maintenance fees, and a hardball company culture, and might we have a winner?

Ultimately, I think not. Like Microsoft, Oracle dominates software categories no longer considered leading edge -- except that Oracle's core database, ERP, and application server businesses are even less exciting than desktop software. Who can blame the company for taking stock of its portfolio and figuring a way to, for lack of a better word, monetize it (and perhaps get a piece of the mobile pie)? We're at an interesting point in the tech industry when the old lions seem bereft of big new ideas but, because the law of the jungle never changes, will not shy away from any means necessary to stay on top.

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