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Larry Ellison Has Learned To Embrace Cloud Computing, Not Convinced It’s An “Incredible New Thing”

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Oracle’s Larry Ellison has acquired a reputation as a cloud computing opponent — after all, he famously called the term “complete gibberish” a few years ago. Today, however, he said, “I’m no longer resisting the name. Call it what you want.”

In fact, Ellison made it sound like he doesn’t get enough credit for starting the trend: “NetSuite was my idea. I called up Evan Goldberg and said, ‘We’re going to do ERP on the Internet.'” That, he said, was an early example of software-as-a-service, and Salesforce.com co-founder Marc Benioff (who has worked to tie his company’s identity to the cloud) copied the idea a few months later, but “in a narrow way.” (Apparently this got a smirk out of Benioff, who was in the audience.)

Ellison said he still objects to some aspects of the interest in the cloud, specifically, the idea that “there’s this incredible new thing called cloud computing,” prompting companies that have been around for a decade to say, “Yeah, that’s us!” Instead of painting cloud computing as something completely new, Ellison said it’s more accurate to think of it as “a continuous, step-by-step evolution.”

“I like the word,” Ellison said. “I objected to some people saying it was new. I like it because it’s a charismatic brand for the next generation of computing.”

Another hot topic for Oracle: The number of lawsuits that it’s currently involved in. Ellison said he didn’t want to talk about any of them, since they’re still being litigated, but on the lawsuit against Google, which seemed to end largely in Google’s favor, Ellison argued that it’s more a copyright lawsuit than a patent lawsuit. Why the distinction? Well, as Ellison noted, on the question of copyright infringement, “We won.”

Ellison is one of the tech world’s larger-than-life figures (for example, he’s supposed to be one of the inspirations for Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayals of Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies), but interviewer Kara Swisher also asked Ellison if there are any big misconceptions about him. He resisted the question at first, but eventually said that people are sometimes surprised when they meet him in person.

“It’s a low bar,” Ellison said. “I didn’t bite the head off a small animal during the meeting.”