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Open-source community sees promise in MySQL deal

As part of Sun, MySQL may get more financial security, advance open source in enterprise IT

By Todd R. Weiss
January 16, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - For Sun Microsystems Inc., the acquisition of open-source database vendor MySQL AB is a positive step, giving Sun its own database and a growing, loyal community of open-source users and developers to add to its portfolio.

So what's the upside or downside for the MySQL community itself?

There is some promise in the deal, said open-source activist Jon "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Amherst, N.H.-based Linux International.

"Sun has been somewhat more open with things" in recent years with other open-source projects, Hall said. "They certainly have helped out with OpenOffice and things like that," he said.

Similar acquisitions of open-source companies by large proprietary vendors such as Oracle Corp. have also worked out well for the open-source community, Hall said. "Oracle has bought a couple of databases, such as SleepyCat Software and things like that, and they have been pretty available [for continued development], so let's see what happens [with the Sun-MySQL deal]," he said.

Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist and a well-known open-source advocate, said today's acquisition announcement will be good for Sun and for the open-source community. "I've yet to find anybody who loses because of this deal," Phipps said. For MySQL, the acquisition means that the company will get added resources and clout to grow its worldwide sales and support teams, which have long been goals of the database company. Achieving that goal on its own would have been a harder and slower process, he said, but with the support of Sun, it will be easier.

"Some [critics] will say its subtractive, but it isn't," Phipps said. "It's an additive move. I've heard some people say that maybe we're going to force people to use Solaris, but that would be a crazy thing for us to do. MySQL is in safe hands ... so it can go through the next growth stage. It's probably in the safest hands it can be in."

Eben Moglen, a free software advocate and president and executive director of the Free Software Law Center in New York, said the deal is indicative of a trend he expects to see repeated more often in the next few months as proprietary technology vendors buy up more open-source companies.

"Lots of people have decided that yes, you can make money with community-developed software," Moglen said. "Everything that helps people understand that this way of making software is not an anticapitalist thing is a good thing. Everything which brings more technology that people are allowed to study and copy and share with others is a good thing."

The deal also underscores MySQL's importance as a pioneering company that demonstrated how open-source software could be effective in enterprise technology systems, Moglen said.

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