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i-Technology Viewpoint: Is Mergermania Back?

It's Not Just Back, It's Back With a Vengeance

Hurricanes Ivan, Charley, and Frances notwithstanding, sometimes being in the eye of the storm has its advantages.

At SYS-CON Media, where we by definition dwell at the epicenter of what might be called the i-technology weather cycle, our central position allows us to ask industry influencers for quickfire responses to burning issues of the day.

The recent PeopleSoft-Oracle decision handed down by the U.S. Justice Department is a case in point. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had given his verdict on the antitrust lawsuit filed seven months ago by the U.S. Justice Department and 10 states seeking to block Oracle's would-be "hostile takeover" of rival PeopleSoft. In his 164-page decision Walker ruled that there weren't sufficient grounds to block it.

The judgement was enough to send PeopleSoft's stock climbing. While it seemed to bring to an end a lawsuit on which Oracle has allegedly spent some $60 million and PeopleSoft even more, some $70 million, we wondered whether it also marked a new beginning: the reemergence of mergermania in the world of enterprise technology. Also, if Oracle "won," who lost?

Taking soundings around us, it wasn't long before we heard back from Mitchell Kertzman, now of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners - and famous before that, of course, as the founder and CEO of Powersoft in 1974, which merged in February 1995 with Sybase, of which he subsequently became chairman of the board and CEO.

"The U.S. Justice Department's patchwork-quilt antitrust policy is the loser here," Kertzman commented. "The software industry needs a clearer, more coherent statement and practice of antitrust guidelines from Justice," he added.

Another prime mover in the enterprise technology space, Dr. Adam Kolawa - cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Parasoft - felt that the problem lay in the issue having ever gone to court in the first place. "I think the suit was a mistake," Dr. Kolawa declared. "Oracle should have been allowed to purchase PeopleSoft in the first place. So we wasted some time and money and now we are able to get down to business."

And the "winner"? Not Oracle, according to the Parasoft chairman. "In a situation like this," he contended, "the winner will be the other guy, not Oracle. Oracle will have to support PeopleSoft customers for quite a while. It cannot just kill the products. In the meantime, because of all the publicity, anybody who thought about buying PeopleSoft software will already have decided to buy competitive packages. The real winners are probably SAP and IBM."

Dr. Kolawa offered a final thought: "I have seen battles like this before, and they were irrelevant a few years later. Do you remember Compaq buying DEC, or HP buying Compaq? They brought more headaches than they were worth to the companies that were involved in them."

The Powersoft merger with Sybase in 1995 was, at the time, the most valuable in the history of the software industry. But an Oracle-PeopleSoft deal would set a new record, including a record for the hostile nature of the whole arrangement.

In a letter written on Sept. 9 after the U.S. District Judge's decision, Oracle chairman Jeff Henley and CEO Larry Ellison wrote to the PeopleSoft board: "With the removal of the U.S. antitrust issue and Oracle's commitment to acquire PeopleSoft, we are hopeful that a transaction can occur." PeopleSoft's reply was curt: "PeopleSoft's Board has carefully considered and unanimously rejected each of Oracle's offers, including its current offer of $21 per share. On May 25, 2004, the Board concluded that the current offer was inadequate and did not reflect PeopleSoft's real value."

To our mergermania question, JBoss CEO Marc Fleury commented: "Consolidation is a natural fact in the software markets. I don't see losers but rather efficiencies at play." He went on to note that the mergers and consolidations might well be catalyzed by the recent rise of open source software. "Open source accelerates this natural consolidation by putting great pressure on the profits of infrastructure software players, for example, the rumors have it that BEA is next on Oracle's shopping list," Fleury said.

No one said 2004 would to be a dull year in the enterprise technology world.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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