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BusinessWeek: An Open-Source Maven Closes In on Oracle

Sep 15, 2000, 12:47 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Alex Salkever)

"He's a soft-spoken 42-year old Virginia gentleman from the Tidewater region who shuns the limelight. But software giants watch this fellow like a hawk. Meet Frank Batten Jr., CEO of holding company Landmark Communications in Norfolk, Va. An understated man who won't even reveal the names of his children, Batten invested $2 million in a small startup called Red Hat and its ambitious founder, Robert Young, back in 1997. At the time, Linux, the 'open-source' operating system (as opposed to Microsoft's proprietary Windows) behind Red Hat software, was considered a geek's toy and commercially irrelevant. Batten knew better. Linux subsequently took off -- as did Red Hat. Batten's 15% stake is now worth more $500 million."

"Having sent a scare through the likes of Microsoft's Bill Gates & Co., Batten is now taking aim at the hot database market, where Oracle rules. Companies spent $8 billion last year on new database-software licenses and increased spending by 18% over 1998, according to tech-analysis firm Dataquest. It projects that spending could grow to nearly $13 billion by 2004, an irresistible target for an open-source devotee such as Batten. 'I think databases are the next place for open source,' he says."

"That's where Great Bridge comes in. A wholly owned Landmark Communications subsidiary, with $25 million in backing from the parent company, Great Bridge plans to package and service commercial versions of the open-source PostGres database. Great Bridge's prices will dramatically undercut rivals such as Oracle's 8I or IBM's DB2. The company, like Red Hat, intends to make money on services and software upgrades rather than licensing fees. "

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