REDWOOD SHORES, CALIF. (06/30/2000) - The packed house at Oracle Corp.'s product announcement this week had little to do with the incremental upgrade to Oracle8i or the Internet development tools the software maker unveiled.
Instead, CEO Larry Ellison was peppered with questions about what he knew and when he knew about his company's covert investigation of lobbying groups aligned with Microsoft Corp.
Oracle has acknowledged that it financed an investigation of the lobbying groups. However, Ellison denied knowing until recently that his company hired Washington-based Investigation Group International Inc. (IGI) to do it.
Ellison's repeated response of "nothing" apparently sits well with Oracle users and partners, who see the company's spy tactics as business as usual.
"I think [Oracle has] a superior product. They have nothing to worry about [and they don't need to resort to spying tactics]," commented Vince Bertone, MIS director at Miteq Inc. in Hauppauge, New York.
"It's not going to discourage me from buying Oracle, and it's not going to discourage me from buying Microsoft. It's kind of humorous," said Jeffrey Thompson, information technology director at Integrated Measurement Systems Inc. in Beaverton, Oregon. "Ellison isn't involved in how the products work, and that's what really matters to me."
But Ellison is involved in Oracle's business strategies, and he supported the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust investigation that spawned Microsoft-sympathetic ad campaigns by lobbying groups, including the Independent Institute, the National Taxpayers Union and the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT).
"I didn't go through Bill's garbage," Ellison said, referring to reports that IGI staff tried to obtain ACT documents by offering an office cleaning crew $1,200 for the association's trash.
In addition to ACT's allegation of bribery on the part of IGI, the groups said confidential information about funding was leaked to the press during the period when IGI was investigating them.
According to Ellison, staff in Oracle's government affairs office in Washington dispatched IGI last June. "I authorized them to investigate Microsoft's covert activities" and authorized a budget to do so, but "I never heard of IGI until [the press story broke last week]," he said. "The second I found out about it, I disclosed it."
"We always knew there was a concerted effort by our competitors to bring this case into the government arena, but we didn't think they would go to these depths," Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller said.
The fact that Oracle's product announcements went virtually unnoticed is ironic, according to Kate Mitchell, senior vice president of marketing and business at Software Technology Corp., an Oracle business partner in Monrovia, California. She said the products reflect the company's aggressive promotion of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems built exclusively on Oracle products.