Oracle OpenWorld 2012, which took place this week in San Francisco, was a more subdued affair than last year’s show, but for all the right reasons from Oracle and chief executive Larry Ellison’s point of view.
Oracle Openworld 2011 was opened and closed by Apple, with Larry Ellison using his opening keynote to tell the thousands of delegates that the firm was the Apple of the enterprise world, in that both firms marry hardware and software.
Just three days later, as Ellison was partway through his closing keynote at the Moscone centre, news travelled around the conference room that Apple chief Steve Jobs had passed away.
Ellison, a good friend of Jobs’, was hurried off the keynote stage, and all the OpenWorld announcements of the previous week faded away as shockwaves burst across the world about the loss of one of the IT industry’s greatest ever innovators.
A year on, and both firms are facing new and similar challenges to preserve their positions at the top of their respective games.
Apple and Oracle have many similarities. Both are famous for having risen through the ranks due to a determined, single-minded and hands-on leader, favouring the ‘my way or the highway’ style of management. Both are sitting on huge cash piles. Both have managed to succeed despite, or perhaps because of, their integrated systems approach, choosing to enforce in Apple’s case, and promote in Oracle’s, the notion of hardware and software engineered to work together.
But the gap widens between the two firms when innovation comes into the picture. While Apple is famous for knowing what its users want even before they’re aware of its existence, and under Jobs, created entire new modes of computing, Oracle gradually catches up with the crowd a few years after everyone else has accepted the latest trend, whether it’s cloud, social or multi-tenancy.
With the death of Jobs, doubts surfaced immediately over whether Apple could retain its crown. While Jobs appeared arrogant and dismissive in his approach to his customers and the world in general - never better highlighted than his response to initial complaints about antennagate, blaming it on iPhone 4 users holding their phones the wrong way and insisting that other vendors suffered the same problems - his successor Tim Cook is a different type of leader entirely.
Only last month we had Cook facing a similar scenario, with ‘Mapsgate’. I can just hear Jobs’ response: iPhone users shouldn’t choose to live in back waters, and it must be the fault of those early cartographers for getting world geography wrong.
Cook, no doubt, had those thoughts echoing in his head too when making the decision on how to respond to the barrage of criticism the firm was facing over the woeful early performance of Apple Maps, after wiping Google Maps from the iOS ecosystem.
But instead of following the Jobs way, Cook took the opposite tack and within a few days had issued a full and grovelling apology, even going so far as to suggest that iPhone users make use of Google Maps via the browser.
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