As thousands prepare to descend upon San Francisco and the legendary Moscone Center for Oracle's OpenWorld Conference 2009, intrigue swirls regarding a surprise guest.

The lineup of keynote presenters offers both what you'd expect (Oracle presidents Charles Phillips and Safra Catz on Monday morning, CEO Larry Ellison closes on Wednesday) and a couple of A list high tech heavyweights (Scott McNealy, Michael Dell and HP's Ann Livermore). It's hard to imagine how Ellison can top his recent appearance and highly entertaining "Cloud Computing" rant.

But the blogosphere is swirling with an unusual development: CEO and Ellison protegé Marc Benioff will reportedly deliver a keynote address, according to Enterprise Irregular blogger Josh Greenbaum. (Greenbaum says Oracle has confirmed this, but the OpenWorld presenter list does not list Benioff.)

Greenbaum terms Benioff's presence (and rather large booth at the Moscone center) "the fox in the hen house." Another fox sniffing around will be Seth Ravin, CEO of Rimini Street, the provider of third party maintenance and support for Oracle and SAP applications.

Beyond all of the glitzy keynotes (isn't it strange that conferences offer more than one keynote?), the annual Oracle Kool Aid fest comes at a time of turbulence, uncertainty and change for Oracle and its customers.

The worldwide recession has had multiple, arresting effects on Oracle customers, as Ellison has publicly acknowledged: IT budgets have been slashed; executives have pulled back on spending for new software licenses, projects and upgrades; enterprises have refocused their attention on which IT applications are delivering value and which aren't; and enterprise software maintenance and support fees are under the microscope like never before.

Oracle's recent quarterly results bear that out: New software license sales fell 17 percent year-over-year and revenue fell by 5 percent, yet Oracle's profits rose by 4 percent year on year, relying heavily on the maintenance business cash cow and its 90 plus percent profit margins.

For enterprise software customers at the show, one big topic is going to be the status of Oracle's Fusion Applications Suite, the much hyped and long delayed killer enterprise application suite that combines the best ERP features and functionalities taken from Oracle's expansive E-Business Suite, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel product lines.

The OOW theme this year is: "Come with questions. Leave with answers." For years, Oracle's customer base has had too many unanswered questions about the functionalities and delivery date of Fusion Apps Suite.
Questions most likely won't be in short supply. Attendees are hoping the answers won't be, either.