Ellison-Benioff rift deepens over canceled keynote

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff Getty Images

Just when you thought OracleWorld 2011 was destined to be one more in a parade of forgettable tech company gabfests - boom! A delish dust-up between a couple of ex-buddy billionaires is breaking out in real time.

You know the old Godfather line about how it's not personal, it's business? So what happens when it's personal and business? That's what's going on here.

On Tuesday evening, Marc Benioff, who runs Salesforce.com, went public with a couple of tweets (here and here to notify the world that he had been dumped as a speaker from Oracle's OpenWorld conference, where he was scheduled to deliver a keynote on Wednesday.

And he pointed the finger of blame at none other than Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison.

"Larry just cancelled my keynote tomorrow! Beware of the false cloud," Benioff wrote in one Twitter post. But that wasn't the end of the story. Benioff plans to have the last word when he addresses whoever shows up for a morning briefing at the St. Regis hotel a few blocks away from the site of the OracleWorld conference in San Francisco. "The show must go on! ", he wrote. "Sorry Larry!"

Oracle has since described its decision as a scheduling change. "Due to the overwhelming attendance at Oracle OpenWorld we had to make several session changes," it said in a statement issued to our sister site CNET. "The Salesforce.com Executive Solution Session was moved to Thursday at 8:00am in the Novellus Theatre."

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff: Still plans to have the last word
Getty Images

If you believe that one, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn up for sale. Fact is that there's a long history between these two with Benioff learning his trade under Ellison as a crackerjack sales executive back in the 1990s. When he left to start Salesforce.com, Benioff brought Ellison in as an early investor. But since those heady days, the relationship has gone south. Some irritation apparently dates back to the circumstances surrounding the Salesforce.com IPO. According to this interview Benioff granted to CNET in 2004, Ellison never thanked him for the windfall he reaped when the company went public. A bigger source of contention is the two companies' competing interpretation over cloud computing. Earlier in the week, Benioff mocked Sunday's OracleWorld talk by Ellison, continuing the public ribbing of his ex-boss. (He previously referred to Ellison's book "Behind The Cloud," as "Way Behind The Cloud.)

And in a poke at Oracle's scheduling mix-up explanation, Benioff tonight described his disappearance from the speaking schedule as yet another sign "that Oracle is threatened by us."

Gentleman, pistols at 20 feet.

  • Charles Cooper On Twitter»

    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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