Will Sun Pull MySQL's Teeth? - InformationWeek

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12/4/2009
08:30 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Will Sun Pull MySQL's Teeth?

That's the feeling former MySQL shareholder and strategy adviser (and NoSoftwarePatents.com prime mover) Florian Muller has about Oracle's new peace offering to the European Union over MySQL. It isn't about giving MySQL real autonomy, but putting it in a whole new cage.

That's the feeling former MySQL shareholder and strategy adviser (and NoSoftwarePatents.com prime mover) Florian Muller has about Oracle's new peace offering to the European Union over MySQL. It isn't about giving MySQL real autonomy, but putting it in a whole new cage.

The laurel branch in question (as described here in the NY Post) involves "creat[ing] a separate entity within a combined Oracle-Sun that houses Sun's MySQL open database software business". This way MySQL could be that much more its own animal without actually being spun off into a full-blown competitor.

In a statement released this morning, Florian took Oracle's motives to task:

Let's be cautious, but assuming that this is what Oracle offers, it's definitely unacceptable for MySQL users because what MySQL needs is an economic entity behind it that has every possible incentive to compete with Oracle's core business and has no inhibitions in that regard. There has to be an unfettered business that really wants to succeed, grow and innovate in every way imaginable, not a toothless tiger in a cage.

Pseudo-autonomy is not the answer because the people running an Oracle-owned MySQL business unit at all levels would know exactly why Oracle acquired the thing in the first place: to pull the teeth from its fiercest competitor. No corporate officer or employee wants to become the victim of his own success. Failure to grow and innovate MySQL would ultimately be rewarded by Oracle as an owner that has too much at stake in its high-price core business and that's why this just wouldn't work.

Oracle could make a lot of money from spinning MySQL off and if Oracle truly wants to forgo all of that money, then the motivation can only be an anticompetitive one.

I've considered before the possibility that when a company buys a major open source outfit, they may not always have the best intentions. If we go by my own formula about such purchases -- that it's about the development team -- then Oracle's plan could be seen as a way to keep MySQL a harmless, lower-tier product.

Sure, someone could fork the MySQL code and start their own development process to make MySQL into that much more of a competitor for Oracle, but that's far easier said than done. And even if someone did such a thing, I suspect competing directly with Oracle would not be the most urgent thing on their minds -- something Oracle itself doesn't seem to get. Right now MySQL's own Monty Widenius has his own fork, MariaDB, but it doesn't look like it's being developed as any kind of Oracle-killer -- just making it a good successor to MySQL will be challenge enough.

Oracle might not even have had the biggest competitor in MySQL. From a purely technical standpoint, there's other players in the open source RDBMS world that are far closer to what Oracle does -- Ingres, for instance. But MySQL was close enough for them to grab onto, and now that they've grabbed, they're not going to let go that easily.

[Update (10:22 am): Karen Tillman, VP of Oracle, has described the Post article's statements as "completely untrue".]

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