The case against the case against Oracle-MySQL

Matt Asay is right, in my opinion, to point out the inherent bias in the case Monty Widenius et al have made against Oracle’s potential ownership of MySQL. I would go further, however, in stating that the case being made against Oracle is flawed by the fact that it is so self-serving. For instance:

  • I previously noted that the Widenius/Mueller case against Oracle owning Sun/MySQL is entirely dependent on the theory that Oracle will not invest in the ongoing development of MySQL, which is something it has publicly committed to doing.
  • The case against Oracle owning Sun is also based on the theory that the only way for a fork of MySQL to generate revenue is via dual licensing. This is clearly not the case. It might be true that the only way for a fork of MySQL to generate the level of revenue required by Monty Program is through dual licensing, but that is not the same thing.
    It might also be true to say that the only way for a fork of MySQL to generate the level of revenue required to be self-sustaining is though dual licensing, but that statement is dependent on the theory that Oracle will not invest in the ongoing development of MySQL, which is something it has publicly committed to doing.

    The launch of Amazon’s Relational Database Service clearly proved that it is possible to generate revenue from MySQL as a third party without dual licensing. RDS was dismissed by Florian Mueller, in an “information kit” sent to analysts/journalists as being “not a real ‘fork'”. This may be true, but it does not prove that RDS is not a viable way for a third party to generate revenue from MySQL, it just proves that it is not the way Monty Program chooses to generate revenue from MySQL.

  • The case against Oracle owning MySQL is also dependent on the theory that MySQL has progressed to the point where it is a viable “option to replace an existing Oracle installation”. This is wishful thinking at best, and deliberately misleading at worst.
    Ask someone who uses both Oracle and MySQL – Mark Callaghan for example – and they will tell you that despite the advances made by MySQL the two are not directly comparable. MySQL has undeniably been deployed to replace Oracle Database installations, but invariably this is due to the fact that the Oracle Database was not the right tool for the job in the first place.
    Too often IT users use a sledgehammer when a hammer will do, and the growth of MySQL was driven by the fact that it was the right tool for web-facing PHP applications. As we previously noted, Oracle executives once dismissed MySQL as a Toyota compared to its 747. It was a comparison that MySQL used to its advantage. Maybe today MySQL has grown some wings, but it is still more suitable for short-haul than trans-Atlantic flights.

    Perhaps this is missing the point, though. Perhaps without Oracle’s ownership MySQL could become a true competitor to Oracle. The “Project Peter” presentation suggests that Sun thought it could. I am not convinced this was anything other than an internal exercise.

    The only time MySQL executives ever made any statements about competing directly with Oracle, to my knowledge, was during the announcement that MySQL was being acquired by Sun, and senior executives later admitted that was the result of getting carried away. MySQL is fundamentally not designed to to do what Oracle Database is designed to do. If you wanted to create a database to compete directly with Oracle you’d be better off starting afresh than building on top of MySQL.

  • The case against Oracle owning MySQL is also reliant on the idea that “the only proposed remedy through which Oracle could ensure that MySQL continues to be a significant competitive force in the database would be a commitment to divest all MySQL assets to a suitable third party” (again from Mueller’s information kit). However, as Groklaw has pointed out, Monty et al previously suggested to the EU Commission in a questionnaire that the license on MySQL should be changed to the Apache License (Mueller has subsequently denied ever suggesting a license change, prompting this response from Groklaw).
    Additionally, our recent survey of open source users demonstrates that there would be limited market acceptance for the forced divestiture of MySQL to another vendor. Just 4.3% of all respondents and 3.9% of MySQL users thought that Oracle should be forced to sell it to another vendor. This is not about user interests, it is about the interests of Monty Program AB.
  • Last, but by no means least, the case against Oracle owning MySQL is flawed in its reliance on FUD and ad hominem attacks. As Groklaw points out, the case was laid out by alleging that the GPL has the potential to infect proprietary software.
    Things went from bad to worse with the response to Eben Moglen’s view on the case. Mueller wrote that “Compared to Richard Stallman [Moglen is} very unimportant in a GPL context”. Not only that but that when Mueller met Moglen in 2004 Moglen “was primarily interested in obtaining funding (at the time from MySQL, on whose behalf I met with him) for some initiatives of his (at the time “patent busting”, a pretty pointless approach that never got anywhere but some lawyers made some money with it)”.

    Mueller recently wrote (in another email to analysts/journalists) that “lobbying is typically what companies do when they can’t win on the substance of a case”. I hate to think what position you have to be in to decide that bad-mouthing one of the most respected lawyers in free and open source software is going to get you somewhere.

    It would be bad enough if it were only Mueller. Recent Henrik Ingo of the Open Database Alliance stated that Mogen “is working for Oracle here” and “is arguing Oracle’s case best he can”.

    This is at best misleading and at worst (taken in consideration alongside Florian Mueller’s statement about Moglen) a slur on Moglen’s integrity. Moglen’s opinion paper clearly states that it was submitted “at the invitation of Oracle’s counsel, but I am not receiving any compensation, fee or reward for so doing.”

  • UPDATE: Finally, we have Monty Widenius’s plea to his fellow MySQL users/developers in which he criticizes Oracle for involving customers in a competition hearing (and there I was thinking it was all about customers) and takes Oracle to task for not promising a number of things. Many of these he has a point about, but then when did MySQL AB or Sun make promises about the following?
    – To keep (all of) MySQL under an open source license
    – Not to add closed source parts, modules or required tools.
    – To not raise MySQL license or MySQL support prices
    – To release new MySQL versions in a regular and timely manner.
    – To continue with dual licensing and always provide affordable commercial licenses to MySQL to those who needs them (to storage vendors and application vendors) or provide MySQL under a more permissive license
    – To develop MySQL as an Open Source project
    – To actively work with the community
    – Apply submitted patches in a timely manner
  • AND ANOTHER THING: The case also relies on the theory that MySQL acts as a price constraint on Oracle Database. However, as Stephen O’Grady points out: “Remember June of 2008? Oracle hiked its prices by 15-20% with no detectible impact to its volume. If MySQL was a real, substantial alternative, wouldn’t we have seen wholesale migrations away from Oracle to MySQL? That we didn’t, and continue not to, tells me they’re two different markets.” Good point well made.
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Oracle’s plan to spend more money developing MySQL than Sun did…

Today, I twittered with Matthew Aslett from 451 group and pointed him to “Project Peter” which lead to a blog post by him (see tweet).


There’s an interesting statement in his blog entry:

[…] on the theory that Oracle will not i…

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#5 451 CAOS Theory » Everything you always wanted to know about MySQL but were afraid to ask - part two on 12.12.09 at 3:54 am

[…] 10: 451 CAOS Theory – The case against the case against Oracle-MySQL “Matt Asay is right, in my opinion, to point out the inherent bias in the case Monty Widenius […]

#6 Dan on 12.17.09 at 7:23 pm

I think anyone that has used both oracle and mysql realize that mysql is bridging the gap very quickly. Unless your company making millions in revenue every quarter I don’t ever see the need for oracle. Plus with todays economy companies are switching left and right. Hopefully oracle continues to support open source MySQL going forward.

#7 Rob on 12.18.09 at 10:41 am

Oracle can handle the speed needed to process hundreds of millions of records at once while MySQL cannot yet handle that kind of volume. For those that do not have the budget, it is likely that the record count would also be low and , therefore, the record keeping capability of MySQL seems adequate. The fact that Oracle has promised continued development and availability of the MySQL project in the open source market says that many are just too sceptical of Oracle keeping its word. This may be true but there are already forks of MySQL that could live on. Also, MySQL isn’t the only FOSS database solution out there. I think that there MAY be possible road blocks from Oracle but at this point, I think people are running around in a “sky is falling” mode without really looking at the facts. And finally, I feel that competition is the main reason we have products like MySQL in the first place. Another FOSS database will step forward if MySQL is no longer a viable alternative.

Another point to make, Oracle does show signs of open thinking. For development, Oracle allows use of its products, license-free. When they took over BEA – which required very specific license agreements for free development – Oracle changed the cumbersome BEA development license process for its more trusting model. Yes, it hopes that more people will use Oracle based prodcuts and create more sales from this more open model for development but it does show their willingness to be more open.

#8 Skeptical on 12.20.09 at 9:47 pm

I read this when it was published and agreed fully. It puts to rest any technology concerns the EC (and anyone else) could have. You really make the case well that Oracle’s incentives are to continue investing in the MySQL technology.

But, since the time I first read this post, a thought occurred to me that I think could be a case for the (former?) case against the merger. It has to do with MySQL partners – both technology and distribution. One thing Oracle certainly knows how to do is “rationalize” redundancies after making acquisitions. It would sure seem likely that one area where they would seek to rationalize after consuming Sun would be in the area of partner management. And why do partners matter? Because everyone who’s been in enterprise infrastructure software for any time knows that business success is all about the ecosystem.

So, put yourself in the shoes of a current MySQL hardware, software or distribution partner – what will the new relationship be like when Oracle’s partner management team is running the show? Will earning a prominent place in the combined entity’s partner hierarchy require selling Oracle databases, too? What about relationships with major OEMs like HP, Dell, Red Hat?

So, for me, while I’m convinced that Oracle has no intention of killing MySQL “harshly” by pulling the plug on development, it remains an open question whether they might kill MySQL “softly” by effectively shutting down the MySQL partner ecosystem.

Matt – any chance your team could survey current MySQL partners about their sentiment on this proposed merger and then make the results public?

#9 Matthew Aslett on 12.22.09 at 2:08 am

Thanks for the comment. I agree that the biggest potential competitive impact of this deal is on the MySQL partner ecosystem. We argued as much here:

The thing is though, that the impact of the acquisition on MySQL’s partnerships is no different than it would be for any other `acquisition and is not specific to the fact that MySQL is open source.

It should still give grounds for concern – and my understanding is that a significant part of the EC’s investigation is on the licensing involved in MySQL partnerships, but a lot of the public discussion has been distracted by questions regarding the GPL and the ability to fork.

Interesting idea on surveying the MySQL partners. Certainly many of them have been vocal in private. They have been less inclined to go public, however. Those that don’t already also partner with Oracle will obviously be hoping to, and they don’t want to risk anything.

#10 Headquarters » Blog Archive » Oracle, MySQL and the GPL: don’t take Monty’s word for it on 12.23.09 at 2:41 pm

[…] media surely has not. Before you read any further, stop right now and read Matthew Aslett’s excellent summary of Oracle-MySQL through last week, Pamela Jones’ excellent piece on the matter (and her later update), and Matt Asay’s […]