Change of Heart: EU Should Nix Oracle-Sun Deal

Last week, I argued that the European Commission, the European Union's top competition authority, was wasting its time delaying Oracle's acquisition of Sun. Since then, I've heard from Henrik Ingo, the COO (chief operating officer) for Monty Program Ab, the MySQL fork headed by MySQL's founder Michael "Monty" Widenius. He has a different take on the EU's opposition to the deal, and I thought it worth sharing his viewpoint with you.

First, Ingo notes that "While it's true that many use MySQL for free [under the open-source GPL license), and some even hack on the GPL'd source code, most of MySQL's paying customers use MySQL under a commercial license which has nothing to do with Open Source. It is in this market that MySQL competes against Oracle and for those customers the GPL version of MySQL offers no consolation. This is the main reason why the EU is concerned."

He's correct; MySQL is a dual-licensed product. Anyone can use MySQL as an open-source program, but, to quote Sun's description of the license, "OEMs, ISVs, VARs and other distributors that combine and distribute commercially licensed software with MySQL software and do not wish to distribute the source code for the commercially licensed software under version 2 of the GNU General Public License (the "GPL") must enter into a commercial license agreement with Sun."

This is a different model than that say used by Red Hat. Anyone can use the latest RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) . Indeed companies like CentOS and Oracle produce near-identical twins to RHEL and it's all quite legal. Where Red Hat makes it money is with support contracts.

That's not the case with MySQL. Ingo explains it's that dual-licensing "revenue is what has been used to improve MySQL for the last 15 years. Yes it's Open Source, but apart from Google and Percona doing some enhancements, MySQL actually did not come to be thanks to a vibrant community of Open Source volunteers, the licensing revenue was used to pay for in-house development."

Ingo continued, "So yes, you're right that Oracle couldn't kill MySQL, and some MySQL users like the Web 2.0 wouldn't even notice anything, but believe me, big European OEM customers to MySQL are concerned."

In addition, "You mention the storage engines, and this should be another reason the EU is concerned. We [Maria DB] argued to the EU that much of the innovation in (SQL) databases as a whole happens today by virtue of MySQL storage engines. Kickfire, Infobright, Calpont are all challenging Oracle as innovative and affordable DB solutions. By owning MySQL, Oracle would get indirect control over all of these (who again need the proprietary, non-GPL license for their business). In other words, Oracle could (potentially) stifle innovation much further than just MySQL itself."

Ingo also observed that my "argument that the EU shouldn't meddle in the merger of 2 US companies we see quite a lot in the US, not surprisingly. The fact is, EU regulates companies that operate in EU, just as US regulates European companies if they operate in the US market."

He agrees with me that "It is true that Sun is suffering every day now. One interesting consequence to understand is that the EU has stalled on a very narrow point of the big picture. Oracle has all powers to end this process in 1 day, by agreeing with the EU to divest the MySQL part and keep the rest. After all, Oracle would want us to believe that MySQL is so insignificant they don't even care to talk about it and the MySQL revenues are so small that a regulator shouldn't even be concerned. If indeed Oracle is not interested in MySQL, there is no reason for them to drag this process any day longer. Otoh if they are not letting go of MySQL... maybe there is something there for the EU to look at after all?"

What it all boils down to is that "MySQL indeed competes and puts price pressure on Oracle."

OK. He's convinced me. While there are other significant open-source DBMSs (database management systems) like PostgreSQL, MySQL is the most important of them. After all, the familiar development phrase LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Python/Perl) includes MySQL. Oracle, like Microsoft, tries to control its areas with an iron hand. Since it appears that, open source or not, commercial MySQL could be locked up by Oracle, I now believe that until MySQL is spun out, the deal should be blocked.

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