The battle royal between Oracle and... well, whoever it is this week, has long been one of the guaranteed entertaining aspects of the software industry. We have been through a number of contenders who have stepped up to the mark, only to be swatted away – Ingres, Informix, PeopleSoft and Siebel to name a few. But SAP has always proved a tougher nut to crack. For starters, it’s not so easy to rattle the corporate cage over in Walldorf.

All Larry Ellison used to have to do with most of his other opponents was smile wolfishly and spit out a sarcastic comment with spectacular results. These ranged from Informix’s Phil White banging on the door in the middle of the night demanding his developers back and PeopleSoft’s Craig Conway accusing Ellison of threatened doggy-cide in the middle of a hostile takeover bid, to Tom Siebel turning a splendid shade of puce as his bile rose at the very mention of Ellison.

But damn it Larry, that Hennig Kagermann just keeps his Germanic cool and will not play ball.
So the unexpected allegations from Oracle that SAP has engaged in “corporate theft on a grand scale” is a massive scaling up of hostilities.

According to Oracle, SAP used the log-ins of soon-to-be ex Oracle customers to download thousands of copyrighted software products and support materials from Oracle’s customer support systems, a claim which SAP denies. Oracle has urged the US District Court in San Francisco to hold a jury trial in the case and immediately order SAP and its subsidiaries to return purloined programs and patches.

How this one pans out remains to be seen but for Larry’s sake, I hope someone knows what he is doing. This is far more serious than idle tinkering with Phil White’s blood pressure – this one has the potential to get really nasty.

Let’s hope both sides are sensible enough to ensure that their customers don’t end up getting caught in the crossfire.

Cause for complaint

One of the great myths is that British people are somehow diffident and reluctant to make a fuss. According to a new survey from RightNow Technologies, we are actually a right old bunch of Victor Meldrews.
Some 70 per cent of us have complained about poor service to a company – and not just the once either.
More than three-quarters of us have complained up to five times. Five times? There’s only one word that can be applied to people that moan about bad service five times. Amateurs!

A very public farce

There is a splendid episode of the 1980s political satire Yes Minister where the hapless MP, Jim Hacker, is stunned to find that a brand new, expensively funded hospital is being kept empty because that makes it more efficient.

When he asks why the hospital is not catering for patients as it is supposed to, he’s told by a smug civil servant that in reality, “it can be argued that one of the functions of a hospital is to care for patients”. Silly old Hacker, thinking that investment in the NHS was supposed to make people better.

I couldn’t help being reminded of this when I read the Public Accounts Committee report into the Whitehall farce that is the NHS National IT Programme. Amid all the usual criticism for poor supplier delivery, slipping schedules, budget over-runs – with the new twist that no one can find any official costings – there comes something that I’ve been waiting to hear for an age.

Someone has finally pointed out that for all the talk of IT there is little obvious clinical benefit for the patient in any of this.