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12/30/2009
06:12 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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MySQL's Former Owner Can't 'Save' It After Selling It

Monty Widenius continues his campaign to save MySQL from falling into Oracle's possession with a script that would have been suitable, perhaps, for the Perils of Pauline. The whole problem with "saving" MySQL at this point is that its most outspoken defenders chose to sell it to Sun, a firm on the brink of collapse.

Monty Widenius continues his campaign to save MySQL from falling into Oracle's possession with a script that would have been suitable, perhaps, for the Perils of Pauline. The whole problem with "saving" MySQL at this point is that its most outspoken defenders chose to sell it to Sun, a firm on the brink of collapse.Michael Monty Widenius is one of the original authors of MySQL and commands attention among the user community of the open source database system. He has mounted the only serious, outside challenge to Oracle taking over MySQL as part of its Sun acquisition.

Unfortunately, this is a regulatory process, not a political campaign. What's more, Oracle produced eight high profile MySQL users to testify before the commission Dec. 10 that they didn't object to the deal. Widenius is conducting an email campaign in opposition, generating more than nine thousand emails. Still, I'm not sure the two things are of equal weight.

After the commission heard customer testimony, Widenius wrote a blog Dec. 12 urging readers "to help save MySQL from Oracle's clutches. Without your immediate help, Oracle might get to own MySQL any day now." A substantive point that he made was that Oracle had made a string of promises to preserve MySQL and MySQL development as is. "Everything is limited to five years. After that period Oracle is free to do anything, including to stop developing an open source version of MySQL." The opposition should be using the more worthy argument that MySQL competes directly with Oracle's core product, the Oracle database system. Oracle says it doesn't. Ingres CEO Roger Burkhardt says it doesn't. Even Oracle's fiercest database competitor, IBM, says it doesn't and the deal should be allowed to proceed.

I have come to disbelieve this argument. No, MySQL doesn't compete with Oracle to be a transaction system or a data warehouse or an enterprise ERP system. But in the Linux market, MySQL is a dominant system in Web site development, information presentation on the Internet, and ecommerce systems. Oracle is heavily invested in gaining a larger presence under Linux. Linux is its fastest growing market, not Sun's Solaris, and it is inevitable that somewhere down the road its aspirations for Oracle 11g will collide with an expanding MySQL. So if I were Widenius, I'd drop the "save MySQL from Oracle's clutches" approach and try to explain how the two are competing and will do so more directly in the future. If Oracle is already expanding rapidly on Linux systems, think how much better its prospects would be if MySQL lacked some essential featire for the next phase of ecommerce.

On the other hand, trying to arouse fears that Oracle will kill off MySQL is a waste of time as well. Oracle wants MySQL to succeed on every Windows machine that isn't about to become an Oracle customer. With MySQL, Oracle gets a kind of firewall against the continued spread of Microsoft SQL Server at the low end. If nothing else, it takes revenue dollars away from what it views as its primary, long term competitor. For Widenius or any of the other former MySQL owner to make this argument today would still be too little, too late but it would be a better argument and educate a wider public on why this issue still matters.

The real problem, however, is that MySQL's owners' actions undermine their own arguments. They chose to sell the code ownership rights -- the ability to indemnify future owners by possessing the sources of authorship of the code -- to Sun Microsystems. They said this was a good thing at the time because Sun's large salesforce would give MySQL greater reach. They neglected to check Sun's balance sheet after subtracting their $1 billion check. Sun, already staggering, had played its last card in a bid to make its open source strategy work.

Any one who understood this at the time had misgivings about MySQL going inside Sun, nevermind Oracle. What if Sun has to cut back its salesforce? I thought at the time. What if it has to cut back its development force? How will that strengthen MySQL and give it greater reach?

No, the way to protect open source code is to not sell it in the first place. If you wish to protect the user community, then serve it, don't sell it out. And chances are, it will protect you as a viable business, if you're willing to let it.

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