RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A columnist at the prestigious Financial Times is trying to play peacemaker between Red Hat and Oracle.

Columnist John Gapper, writing in Monday’s FT under the headline “A threat to the fragile Linux ecosystem”, said: “Anything that makes companies less confident about Linux would provide a reason to buy Microsoft software instead, which is why IBM makes a point of supporting both Novell and Red Hat.” (Registration required.)

The dispute between data base provider Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and Red Hat’s top executive Matthew Szulik erupted a week ago when Ellison criticized Red Hat in an interview with The FT. Ellison, reacting to Red Hat’s acquisition on April 10 of JBoss, an Oracle competitor, pointed out that Oracle just might buy an open source company itself and develop a complete software “stack”. Red Hat is an Oracle partner, providing Oracle one source of Linux with which to combat Microsoft. Partner or not, Ellison criticized Red Hat, especially its handling of customers.

“What if IBM were to decide to support Red Hat Linux – what does that do to Red Hat? One of the big problems we have with Red Hat today is, they’re not very good at supporting the customers, so we help them a lot – we want them to be successful, because Red Hat is to some degree our way of competing with Microsoft down at the core level. But they’re a small company and they’re not supporting the customers very well,” Ellison told The FT.

Analysts who had warned early on that Oracle and IBM – major partners with Red Hat – might see Red Hat as a competitor in the middleware space once the JBoss deal is done – took Ellison’s words as a declaration of war. Red Hat stock dropped 7 percent.

Four days later, Szulik responded with a letter to the editor of The FT in which he said he welcomed further involvement by Oracle in open source. However, he criticized also criticized Ellison, if not directly.

“The US automotive industry is a good case study, in comparison to the state of the domestic US software industry,” Szulik said. “I believe the technology industry has entered an era where the customer, an asset taken for granted by many technology companies during the past 30 years, has moved front and center in the Internet. The absence of lock-in due to open source software has created a new competitive period where innovation and value added replaces the lack of alternatives created by the proprietary walled gardens of software vendors.”

IBM, meanwhile, was not nearly as hostile as Ellison to the JBoss deal.

“Our view is that one of the great things about Linux is that you don’t have to own it to have the freedom of movement and have whatever stacks you need,” said Scott Handy, vice president of Linux and open source at IBM.

“Let’s not be confused. We all sit on the same side of the fence: all Java is good, all standards are good,” he added. “When you look at the bigger ecosystem battle going on, which is (Microsoft) .Net versus open, it’s all goodness.”

Two weeks after the Red Hat-JBoss deal, it’s obvious the software industry and analysts are still wrestling with the consequences of the acquisition. Despite Gapper’s column, the bet here is that peace between Oracle and Red Hat is farm from being at hand.