Let MySQL Go: Oracle, Open Source, and the EU

The news that the European Commission thinks Oracle should jettison MySQL as part of its deal to acquire Sun is a typical case of bad analysis yielding potentially good results. I have to agree with Oracle’s contention that MySQL + Oracle DBMS does not constitute an unfairly competitive combination, and the EU’s perception to the contrary proves Oracle’s point Brussels doesn’t understand Open Source, or the database market, for that matter.

I also have to agree with the EU that selling MySQL would be a good resolution to the problem, but I also feel that letting Oracle hang on to MySQL would have pretty much the effect that the EU is looking for, albeit not exactly in the manner the EU would have liked.

Here’s how I see it. If Oracle hangs on to MySQL, which has carved out a niche in the new world of Web-based businesses, two things will happen. Oracle will work day and night to convert those MySQL customers to a cloud-based Oracle DBMS environment, and basically try to pick off as many MySQL customers as possible. Meanwhile, Oracle will be happy to collect service and support fees from those customers that remain in the MySQL camp.

Over the long run, this will produce the same effect as Oracle’s acquisition of the old Rdb database from Digital Equipment Corp., or IBM’s acquisition of Informix: dead, gone, and forgotten, with no impact on the top vendors’ market share.

But, don’t forget, this doesn’t actually mean that MySQL has to die: it’s an open source database, which means there are no end of suckers – oops, I mean dedicated database experts – willing to work for free to better a product that drives a significant, VC-funded or publicly-traded company-based service and maintenance business. There will always be open sourcers willing to help make for-profit companies successful, and MySQL, even if it is totally neglected by Oracle, will likely still progress through a reasonable innovation cycle.

Even if Oracle could manage to kill MySQL, there’s plenty of other open source DBMSes to take its place. Ingres and PostgreSQL, among many others. So, open source will continue to thrive, the for-profit service and support vendors for open source will continue to make suckers – I mean heroes – out of the free labor they derive from the open source movement, and not much will change, except the names of the contenders for top open source database.

Just to fill out my thoughts, I also think that Oracle could and probably should jettison MySQL if that’s the only way to get the EU to play ball. Jettisoning the database doesn’t mean jettisoning a service and support business for MySQL (a la Red Hat), which is anyway where the money is in this open source “business”. And, while providing high levels of support and service to MySQL customers, Oracle could pursue its merry conversion business unimpeded by regulators or the messiness of corralling open sourcers to do high-value, enterprise-class work.

So, successful if they do, successful if they don’t, the current flap with the EU is just that, a flap. Oracle can and will prevail in its efforts to buy Sun, and, whether MySQL comes with it or not, Oracle can and will start the process of moving MySQL customers to a cloud-based DBMS world. It’s not a matter of if, just when.


PS: to all of you open source database developers offended by this column, please bear in mind I have your best interests in mind. Stop working for free to make VCs and shareholders rich, your work deserves honest remuneration, not exploitation.




2 thoughts on “Let MySQL Go: Oracle, Open Source, and the EU

  1. Josh,
    while you have made some interesting points, note that more than 95% of the code that is in MySQL is written by employees on the MySQL (Sun) payroll. MySQL has always been a company-led project with a for-profit incentive. By and large the folks who work on MySQL are paid to do so.


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