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COMPUTING

Ellison explains his feud with Gates

Ellison   

December 17, 1998
Web posted at: 1:40 PM EST

by Rob Guth

From...

(IDG) -- Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison sheds light on his long-running feud with Bill Gates. Ellison said he is inspired by the victor from another true-to-life epic struggle waged when the two software titans were just twinkles in their parents' eyes.

Ellison in recent years has built a public image around pointed attacks on his competitor Microsoft, often singling out its Chairman, rich-man Gates, as a villainous copier of technology with a misguided vision of the computer industry.

The flamboyant Oracle chief kicked off his keynote here saying that "a great man got a new job a little while ago," a poke at Gates' decision earlier this year to offload more management responsibility to Microsoft's second-in-command. Now, Ellison joked, Gates has more time to "look down that road ahead," an offhand reference to Gates' 1995 bestseller "The Road Ahead."

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Ellison explained-referring to a paper drafted by the Microsoft head-that what Gates sees is a future computing model with data centralized on "mega servers" and not dispersed across many desktops and "little servers," Ellison said. That future, he explained, is at odds with the current model, which Microsoft dominates.

Most important, it plays to Oracle's core business: selling databases that reside on servers and house voluminous amounts of information.

Such digs at Gates are now a well-rehearsed Ellison soliloquy. In keynote speeches, informal gatherings and private interviews, the Oracle chief slips easily into long rants on what he sees as Gates' quest to dominate everything Microsoft touches. One favorite Ellison refrain is that Gates wants a world of "Microsoft English."

But amid the years of vitriol lies a burning question: Has Larry Ellison ever met Bill Gates?

"We used to be friends a long time ago," Ellison said in response to questions from IDG News Service. Ellison used to spend "a good deal of social time with Bill. Less so recently."

Ellison explained that his current impression of Gates stems, in part, from a morning phone conversation he had with the Microsoft head many years ago.

Disagreeing with a point Ellison made, Gates concluded that he would "have to think about that," and abruptly hung up the phone. Over six hours later, Gates called back and said he ultimately agreed with Ellison and "continued the conversation as if nothing had even happened," Ellison said, expressing his disbelief.

That Gates should spend half a day mulling over a minor point was a "revelation" to Ellison, who realized that his erstwhile friend is "a very unusual person." Moreover, Gates is "the most aggressive, the most single-minded...the most ambitious person I have ever met in my life," said Ellison, whose own personal fortune stands at about $6 billion.

Again, a question: More ambitious than even Larry Ellison?

"I have hobbies. I do all sorts of ridiculous things," outside of work, countered Ellison. Gates, whose "entire life is Microsoft" would never consider hobbies enjoyed by Ellison, such as sailboat racing and "reading books," said Ellison, the owner of a Machetti Italian jet fighter and the richest citizen of "The Golden State."

Prodded, Ellison said he is now into a book by historian John Lukacs called "The Duel: 10 May - 31 July 1940: The Eighty Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler." The 1992 work recreates the tense standoff between Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, the British Prime minister, as they eyed each other across the English Channel during World War II.

Ellison laughed when asked if he plays Churchill to Gates' Fuhrer in his own duel over who will dominate the computer industry. Ironically, a challenge posed by Ellison last month that pits his database against Microsoft's SQL Server approaches the realm of duel, albeit one of a somewhat geekish flavor. Churchill is "the most important person of the 20th Century" who achieved "nothing short of saving Western civilization," Ellison concluded. "I can't say that I identify with him but he is certainly one of my heroes. Bill Gates is not."

Rob Guth is senior Asian correspondent for the IDG News Service.

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