Oracle is launching a program to encourage its software partners to offer versions of their applications for Linux, and it will pay out some $150 million a year as part of the initiative to help with their marketing and development efforts.Oracle already offers versions of its database, server and applications software for Linux, and last year it agreed to provide technical support for customers running its software on Red Hat's version of Linux. Just last week it extended that program to include distributions from Conectiva SA, The SCO Group, SuSE Linux AG and Turbolinux."We've heard from our customers that the things inhibiting their movement to Linux are technical support, which we addressed last summer, and also the availability of applications. So we're providing technical and financial incentives to independent software vendors (ISV) to develop and market Linux applications," said Bob Shimp, vice president of Oracle9i database marketing.The company has earmarked $150 million for the program in the first year, which will be doled out to qualifying ISVs for marketing and development costs of applications that run on top of Oracle's database. The company expects to continue that level of funding for "a number of years," Shimp said.Oracle will provide two dollars for every dollar an ISV invests of its own money. It will also share its customer list with them to help generate sales leads and will allow them to market their Linux offerings through its Web site, both of which are firsts for the company, according to Shimp. It will also provide access to migration tools for free.As database sales have slowed in recent years, Oracle has made Linux a cornerstone of its efforts to drive future growth. The company has touted the potential cost savings of running its software on Intel-based servers running Linux, as well as the operating system's suitability for clustered server environments.Ensuring the availability of a broad set of applications is crucial to its Linux efforts, however, and the Linux initiative announced Wednesday is a good step in that direction, said Stephen O'Grady of the analyst company RedMonk, in Hollis, N.H."From a cost perspective (Linux) is an attractive option. As the\u00a0operating system\u00a0matures, as the tools get better, and with momentum like this announcement from Oracle and other efforts from IBM, enterprises start to see (Linux) as more and more of a viable platform," he said.The Oracle program should help to ensure that Oracle's customers have access to Linux versions of the applications they need, Shimp said."Financial services, retail and government are very big areas for us, and we're focusing on recruiting ISVs to Linux in those areas. There's already a lot of pull for management tools, so while that area is important, there's not so much urgency there," he said.Ensuring a supply of applications isn't the only challenge for Oracle's Linux efforts, however."The next big thing will be providing the technical education to the actual customers so their DBAs and others are all very confident and comfortable about using Linux for enterprise applications. We've already begun this through Oracle University, but it's an ongoing process and there's still work to be done," Shimp said.As a provider of business applications, Oracle competes with some of its ISV partners, O'Grady noted. But the database giant probably has enough clout in the industry to ensure continued support from the ISV community, he saidSeparately, engineers at Oracle are working on the Linux kernel, the code at the heart of all Linux distributions, to make it more suitable for running Oracle's software. The company plans to submit its work to Linus Torvalds, who oversees changes made to the Linux kernel, with the hope its work will be incorporated, said Wim Coekaerts, the developer in charge of Oracle's Linux kernel efforts, in a recent interview.Among the efforts, the engineers hope to increase the amount of physical memory that can be addressed by 32-bit Intel servers running Linux. The goal is to make the operating system more suitable for running large databases and for supporting applications that are accessed by large numbers of users, Coekaerts said.Oracle also hopes that a version of the clustered file system that it released for Linux customers last year will become part of the kernel. The file system makes it easier to use Oracle's Real Application Clusters (RAC) technology, used for running its database and application server software across clusters of Intel-based servers."Clustered file system is important because management for Oracle RAC is pretty complex. (The clustered file system) makes it easier because a DBA can see one file system, as if they were working with a single machine. Many of our customers say they won't run RAC unless they have a clustered file system, even for other platforms," he said."We hope it will be part of the Linux kernel," he continued. "It's probably not 100% what a standard Linux file system would be. It's focused on Oracle because that was our main goal, so now we're working on it as a generic clustered file system that everybody can use, then it will hopefully become part of the kernel."