Last week's news that Oracle will buy PeopleSoft for a small premium over Oracle's most recent offer was almost the ultimate in anticlimaxes. It was a given, once the U.S. antitrust lawsuit against the...

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Last week’s news that Oracle will buy PeopleSoft for a small premium over Oracle’s most recent offer was almost the ultimate in anticlimaxes. It was a given, once the U.S. antitrust lawsuit against the deal failed in early fall, that a buyout would happen unless an unexpected white knight showed up to buy PeopleSoft.

This deal should have been done a long time ago.

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PeopleSoft is a smart fit with Oracle in many respects. Both make software applications for business customers that help them manage customer relationships, sales, human resources and other complex processes.

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison has been adamant from the beginning of this battle that Oracle sees consolidation as an unstoppable and necessary condition in the industry. He and other executives have said their company is bulking up to fight a coming battle of titans for the future of software in large and medium-size enterprises.

The Justice Department raised important antitrust issues when it sued to block the deal. But it put on a remarkably unpersuasive case that a combined Oracle-PeopleSoft would stifle competition in the market for sophisticated business software. Oracle convinced the judge that the market is much larger than the department had defined.

And Oracle was more right than wrong, from a pure market standpoint. Even as this battle has dragged on, developments in the software industry have made it clear that new kinds of competition, especially from what are known as “Web services,” are emerging in this arena.

Companies like Salesforce.com, which lets customers run complex applications via their Web browsers, are no immediate threat to Oracle and its heavy-duty products, but they will be.

And as Oracle noted incessantly during the trial, there’s another competitor on the horizon. Contrary to its pronouncements to date, Microsoft will surely discover that it covets the market that will be dominated, for now, by the beefed-up Oracle and Germany’s SAP, which will still be the biggest in the field.

As it competes in its changed marketplace, Oracle will have some repairs to make. Ellison may have been right about the business necessity of consolidation, but his (and his colleagues’) trash-talking has been anything but helpful.

The drawn-out nastiness leaves all kinds of damage behind — to PeopleSoft’s customers and employees, and to the reputations of many executives involved in the deal. Leaving people to twist in the wind isn’t just unattractive. It’s counterproductive. This kind of corporate behavior drains confidence in our system.

Many of PeopleSoft’s customers and other buyers of enterprise software have been hurt, and will continue to be unhappy, at least in the short term. They will see less competition when they buy, and more uncertainty about the future of the products in which they have invested millions of dollars.

And thousands of PeopleSoft employees will lose their jobs. They, and the communities in which they live, will bear the brunt of the pain.

PeopleSoft’s executives and directors deserve special censure for their own refusal to face reality. At the very least, they should have done this deal early in the fall, when the judge made it clear he wasn’t going to block the deal. They also made ugly, and at times downright deceptive, statements during the buyout saga.

I wish the other constituencies — customers, employees and communities — counted for more in the way public companies operate. But shareholders rule. In the end, they ruled here, too, saying they’d accept a deal at a reasonable price.

Was this ever a real issue? Not really. This whole thing should never have taken so long.

Dan Gillmor is a columnist with the San Jose Mercury News.