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Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle Paperback – September 7, 2004
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Softwar is a biography of Larry Ellison and his company, Oracle. As such, it's simultaneously a portrait of a clever and driven man, a case study of a successful software development company, and a tableau of the commercial software industry from its beginnings, through the dot-com craze, and into the present era. Matthew Symonds, who began this project while working as the editor of the excellent technology section of the Economist, has done a great job with all three elements of his project, thanks in no small part to the tremendous access he was given and to his close collaboration with Ellison.
Collaboration is very nearly the right word, as Ellison reviewed Symonds' manuscript before publication and, while he did not alter it, he did make a large number of comments, which appear in the book as footnotes. As Symonds is a good journalist who attributes most of his material, Ellison is able to take issue immediately with statements other people make about him and his company. The overall effect is hypertextual, and represents an important new biographical technique that other writers should imitate. Softwar succeeds because Ellison has a fantastically interesting life, tremendous experience, and carefully considered opinions, and because Symonds communicates them with clarity and style. --David Wall
Topics covered: The life, times, acquaintances, tastes, toys, and opinions of Larry Ellison, the database entrepreneur and CEO of Oracle Corporation. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Symonds was technology editor at the Economist when Ellison invited him to collaborate on a book about e-business, but the journalist decided he would rather write a profile of the software tycoon, one of Silicon Valley's most notorious figures. Oracle's database programs have become integral to the Internet and other networked computer systems, and Oracle's head is convinced that he can surpass Microsoft as the industry leader. But he's also developed a reputation for his aggressive corporate tactics and personal flamboyance. Ellison agreed to cooperate with the project, but as part of the deal, he reserved the right to respond, which he does in a series of running footnotes. Sometimes he only uses the opportunity to mouth business platitudes, but he also refutes stories, cracks jokes and even argues with other sources. Although the book deals extensively with Oracle's efforts to promote a new software package, it comes to life most when it follows Ellison outside the office-prepping his sailboat for a run at the America's Cup or overseeing the final touches on a Japanese garden complex. Symonds's near-total access to his subject leads to intimate observations that verge on personal advice, as when the writer suggests how best to handle a top Oracle executive or comments on the relationship between Ellison and his two children. But he remains objective enough to point out several mistakes in the past management of Oracle (many of which Ellison acknowledges or clarifies). Even without its unusual counterpoint, the book would stand as a compelling portrayal of one of the computer industry's most influential leaders.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In this unique, remarkable, and truly excellent book, Matthew Symonds captures, as well as a journalist could, what an amazing man Mr. Ellison is, and what an amazing company he founded and led to unbelievable success. Symonds also gives a truly special look inside the mind and character of the enigmatic founder of this software colossus.
Currently, I am working on a book on the Relational Model for Database. And I picked up this book by Symonds as part of my research. Having read "Softwar", I am well prepared to describe, with awe, the remarkable role that Mr. Larry Ellison played in making Dr. E.F. Codd's dream a reality. Indeed, as Codd provided the theoretical foundation for the Relational Model for Database, and fought valiantly for its acceptance, even unto his death, Ellison probably merits more credit than any particular human being for making the Relational Model a commercial reality, and success.
A common theme occurs throughout this wonderful book. The theme is that programmers, of which Larry Ellison is certainly one, are constantly playing the game of "I'm Smarter than You" whenever locked in technical debate. One of the reasons that Ellison is so disliked by many uninformed observers in the industry is that he nearly always won that game. And that sort of unparalleled excellence always seems to become the object of jealousy.
I strongly recommend this excellent book to any who would understand both Mr. Ellison and the history of his amazing company. God bless.
- There's some great reporting embedded in what is really a ~500 page PR piece for Ellison
- The Ray Lane story was worth the read
- Ellison at the emergence of the Internet and struggling (like others) to see the future is a great historical read
- Giving the subject of your book permission to have a running commentary on the bottom of each page of your text, makes a mockery of the word journalist. (Doubly so because Ellison's commentary was unnecessary and extraneous. It added nothing to the story. It only proved how badly he compromised the author.)
- The book was in desperate need of an editor. It has periods of true reporting sandwiched in-between verbatim transcripts of Ellison position papers. Easily could have been 1/2 the size and twice as good.
- Tons of tactical details about: Ellison firing execs, defending Ron Wahl is spite of overwhelming evidence of incompetence, management by parachuting in, management only in crisis,etc. but none of this gets put into a coherent description of 1) who is Larry Ellison, 2) why given the permanent dysfunction of the company did it and he succeed. If there ever was a great example of "can't see the forest for the trees" reporting, this book is it.
- The whitewash of the Oracle contracting scandal with the State of California is a great example of when reporters become PR flacks of their subject. The author spent 3 years with Ellison and couldn't conclude "of course Oracle was pushing the edge?" A reporter would have asked if the "sales at any price" culture that almost killed the company in the 1990's had returned. A comprised flak rationalized it.
- Three years with Ellison and Oracle and no summing up of how this talented and flawed human being built the company
The most interesting part of the book, to me, was the footnotes penned by Larry himself, a quid pro quo for the two years of access to Ellison's life that Symonds received. Ellison is humorous, humble and scathingly disparaging of his enemies (heads up Gates and Siebel!) in hundreds of footnotes scattered throughout the book. Sure, it's a bit frustrating that Larry always has the last word on controversial issues. And his attempts to spin the story may turn your stomach at times. But 'Softwar' would be a much drier read without Ellison's contributions. Besides, you're always free to make up your own mind when Larry's version of reality comes across as a little too convenient. At the end of the day, 'Softwar' may be the best Ellison bio out there, and a great read for folks who are interested in a classic American success story.