PartnerWorld becomes The Lost World

IBM and Oracle waged a reptilian war Tuesday, with both companies bringing out leathery-skinned mascots at IBM's PartnerWorld conference to champion their respective database products.

San Francisco should be IBM's town this week, where the company has pulled out all the stops for its annual partner conference. Big Blue had baseball great Willie Mays play catch with its customers Sunday, handed out a free m105 handheld computer from Palm to every attendee, and tossed out $20 to attendees for answering questions about IBM products during conference sessions.

Oracle apparently saw these gestures as a marketing challenge and refused to let Armonk, New York-based IBM win the battle in Oracle's own backyard.

The database giant rented two trucks that circled The Moscone Convention Center where PartnerWorld is taking place, with signs attacking IBM's DB2 database software. A fast-moving truck carried an advertisement with the standard Oracle claim that its database runs faster than IBM's, even on IBM's own hardware. A slow-moving truck that followed some distance behind sported a more original attack.

Oracle had placed an 18-foot-tall inflatable blue brontosaurus in a cage bearing the name "DB2-a-Suarus." A sign on the back of the truck warned, "Caution: Slow moving software."

Not to be outdone, IBM brought out its own lizard, representing its Project eLiza, to greet attendees. The fuzzy green reptile shook hands with conference attendees and could be seen slithering around the convention center floor. Project eLiza is a companywide effort to build failure-detection systems and automation tools into IBM's entire server line.

In the midst of the competitive barbs, one IBM executive claimed that behind the scenes the two companies are actually on good terms.

"At a technical level, we have the best relationship we have ever had with Oracle," said Val Rahmani, general manager of Web servers in IBM's eServer group, speaking at the show. "We will never stop the marketing folks trying to have a dig at each other. That's what they do."

As proof of their friendship, Rahmani said Oracle will release the next iteration of its database software later this year on IBM's AIX operating system at the same time it is available for Sun Microsystems' Solaris and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX platforms.

"It has not always been this way, but it will be from now on," she said.

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