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Oracle+MySQL Opponents Take to the Barricades

Monty Widenius thinks that Oracle shouldn’t have his baby

MySQL Journal on Ulitzer

Monty Widenius, the creator of the MySQL open source database – which is apparently all that stands between Oracle and its acquisition of Sun – thinks that Oracle shouldn’t have his baby and that the European Commission – whose investigation into MySQL has put the Oracle-Sun merger in limbo – should force Oracle to spit it out to another company.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, a guy with a collector’s temperament not given to letting things that belong to him go, has said he wants to keep MySQL and has claimed to be watching Sun’s revenue plunge by $100 million a month while he waits for the EC to finish its probe, a exercise that could take well into January.

MySQL isn’t supposed to be why Larry shocked everybody and offered $7.4 billion for poor down-on-its-heels Sun back on April 20. Sticking it to IBM was probably something he relished and with Java, Solaris and Sun servers Oracle can take a run at turning into an enterprise version of Apple. Larry always did have a lot of regard for Apple.

But Oracle also had a certain yen to own MySQL and before Sun up and spent a billion dollars buying the joint, Oracle made a pass at buying it for itself. Maybe it did mean to roll over on it and smother it as some people say but – and we have this on very good authority – Monty was all for selling out to Oracle so it’s kind of odd now that he’s trying to foment resistance to the idea of Oracle and MySQL being together at last.

Monty says the European Commission is “absolutely right to be concerned” about Oracle getting its hands on MySQL and has taken it into his head that Oracle should commit to selling MySQL to a “suitable third party” to resolve the imagined antitrust impasse and potential conflict of interest (http://monty-says.blogspot.com).

If nothing else Larry is doubtlessly committed to the idea of keeping MySQL out of third party’s hands, especially since those hands might in all likelihood belong to, oh, say, Red Hat, VMware or Google.

To raise the hue and cry and lobby the EC to stop Oracle from getting MySQL Monty has tied up with one of the best rabble-rousers in Europe, Florian Mueller, late of the campaign to stop software patents in the EU.

According to Mueller, “Every day that passes without Oracle excluding MySQL from the deal is further evidence that Oracle just wants to get rid of its open source challenger and that the EU’s investigation is needed to safeguard innovation and customer choice. This is highly critical because the entire knowledge-based economy is built on databases.”

Mueller helped Monty prepare to testify before the EC on the anti-competitive impact of Oracle owning MySQL back in August and has apparently been poking a stick in the ribs of regulators in Russia, China, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland and maybe Canada to get them to sit up and pay attention.

He’s also gotten easily provoked consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman up in arms.

Stallman, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a social justice organization founded by Nader, and a UK-based thing called the Open Rights Group (ORG) sent an open letter to EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes Tuesday arguing against the Oracle-MySQL combine and claiming that forking, which was previously Monty’s fallback position, isn’t a viable option to ensure competition in the marketplace, contrary to what defenders of the proposed takeover claim.

The letter claims that “Oracle seeks to acquire MySQL to prevent further erosion of its share of the market for database software licenses and services, and to protect the high prices now charged for its proprietary database software licenses and services.

“If Oracle is allowed to acquire MySQL, it says, “it will predictably limit the development of the functionality and performance of the MySQL software platform, leading to profound harm to those who use MySQL software to power applications.”

The letter lays out their objections in detail:

“Defenders of the Oracle acquisition of its competitor naively say Oracle cannot harm MySQL, because a free version of the software is available to anyone under GNU GPL version 2.0, and if Oracle is not a good host for the GPL version of the code, future development will be taken up by other businesses and individual programmers, who could freely and easily ‘fork’ the GPL’d code into a new platform. This defense fails for the reasons that follow.

“MySQL uses the parallel licensing approach to generate revenue to continue the FLOSS development of the software. If Oracle acquired MySQL, it would then be the only entity able to release the code other than under the GPL. Oracle would not be obligated to diligently sell or reasonably price the MySQL commercial licenses. More importantly, Oracle is under no obligation to use the revenues from these licenses to advance MySQL. In making decisions in these matters, Oracle is facing an obvious conflict of interest – the continued development of a powerful, feature-rich free alternative to its core product.

“As only the original rights holder can sell commercial licenses, no new forked version of the code will have the ability to practice the parallel licensing approach, and will not easily generate the resources to support continued development of the MySQL platform.

“The acquisition of MySQL by Oracle will be a major setback to the development of a FLOSS database platform, potentially alienating and dispersing MySQL's core community of developers. It could take several years before another database platform could rival the progress and opportunities now available to MySQL, because it will take time before any of them attract and cultivate a large enough team of developers and achieve a similar customer base.

“Yet another way in which Oracle will have the ability to determine the forking of MySQL relates to the evolution of the GNU GPL license. GPL version 2.0 (GPLv2) and GPL version 3.0 (GPLv3) are different licenses and each requires that any modified program carry the same license as the original. There are fundamental and unavoidable legal obstacles to combining code from programs licensed under the different GPL versions. Today MySQL is only available to the public under GPLv2.

“Many other FLOSS software projects are expected to move to GPLv3, often automatically due to the common use of the "any later version" clause. Because the current MySQL license lacks that clause, it will remain GPLv2 only and it will not be possible to combine its code with the code of many GPLv3-covered projects in the future. Given that forking of the MySQL code base will be particularly dependent on FLOSS community contributions - more so than on in-company development - the lack of a more flexible license for MySQL will present considerable barriers to a new forked development path for MySQL.

“We note that Oracle has been conspicuously silent about its plans for MySQL since the announcement of the Sun acquisition, until very recently. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, in the first public statement on the subject, insisted that Oracle will not spin-off MySQL after the merger and also made the outlandish claim that Oracle's product was not in competition with MySQL. While some merger defenders have suggested that the MySQL acquisition will bolster Oracle's position with respect to competition from Microsoft's SQL Server, it is naturally more likely that Oracle will prioritize protecting its core product, the Oracle proprietary database, from further erosion of market share and the shrinking of licensing fees, and this will most efficiently be accomplished by curbing the growth and improvement of the free version of MySQL.” See http://keionline.org/ec-mysql.

Mueller, by the way, who was a MySQL shareholder and so should have made out when Sun bought it, claims that “letting Oracle have MySQL is worse than putting the fox in charge of the henhouse because the hens are no threat to the fox while MySQL makes Oracle lose customers and forces it to grant discounts to customers threatening to defect.”

Ironically Mueller came by his MySQL stock because he was a strategy advisor of MySQL’s ex-CEO Marten Mickos. Mueller and Mickos now find themselves on opposite sides of the fence.

Mickos, an advocate of the fork-as-a-last-resort approach to the problem, recently wrote his own open letter to Kroes urging the EC to rubberstamp Oracle’s acquisition of Sun and MySQL with all possible haste claiming that further delay will blunt MySQL’s competitive edge and discourage venture capitalists from funding open source companies.

He was in Brussels last week testifying on behalf of the acquisition. He says he has no commercial or financial interests in MySQL, Sun or Oracle.

There are rumors of an EC deadline this week to decide whether to torture Sun and Oracle some more and keep the investigation going. Mueller, meantime, means to take his campaign to the press on both sides of the pond.

In August, he wrote a position paper that Monty Program Ab, Monty’s new company in Finland working on MariaDB, the Maria database storage engine and other MySQL-related technologies, provided to the EC. The latest version is at (ftp://ftp.askmonty.org/secret/COMP_M.5529_Req_to_protect_disruptive_inno...).

Oracle was clearly wrong not to anticipate problems with the EC and at least get the review process started sooner.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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