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Some additional information: the Mac OSX client connects, so the problem seems to be specific to the linux client.
From what I've read on the web, I'm guessing that the following rules apply
The password must start with a letter (Oracle database passwords are not case sensitive)
Subsequent characters may be letters, numbers, or the symbols # (pound sign), $ (dollar sign) or _ (underscore).
Also do not use words that are Oracle reserved words. You can supposedly break the rules above if your password is quoted, but then all the interfacing software needs to accomodate that. The weaker passwords (case insensitivity, and limited punctuation) can be compensated by making longer passwords, up to 63 characters in length.
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