EU takes on Sun/Oracle

The European Commission, the European Union's top competition authority, has opened an in-depth investigation into Oracle's planned $7.4 billion takeover of Sun. Until they're done, it won't approve the Oracle/Sun acquisition.

Are you kidding me? This is so wrong-headed in so many ways.

First, the commission's reason for doing this, explained Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes in a statement, is to "examine very carefully the effects on competition in Europe when the world's leading proprietary database company proposes to take over the world's leading open source database company (MySQL)."

On the surface, that sounds good — but if you know open source and you know what's happened to MySQL, you know it's an argument with no merit. Oracle could kill MySQL the second it has control over Sun, and it wouldn't matter a bit. MySQL's code is already out there for anyone to reproduce, support, and improve. Oracle can't put the open-source genie back in the bottle. No company can.

Yes, Oracle doesn't have to release any of its improvements to the code in the future, but so what? MySQL has already been forked, and most DBMS experts would agree that Sun's 'official' version is already the loser of this split. Michael 'Monty' Widenius, MySQL's founder and then Sun's CTO for its MySQL division, left Sun in February and immediately started his own fork of MySQL, MariaDB. It's this version of MySQL that everyone in the know thinks will become the MySQL mainstream.

There's also a question as to whether MariaDB can use proprietary MySQL DBMS engines, but I really don't see that being a long-term problem. So, from where I sit, it really doesn't matter what Oracles does with MySQL or what the European Commission thinks of the deal. The MySQL DBMS (database management system) family will go on with or without Oracle's support.

Besides, what is the European Commission doing by trying to rule over the acquisition of one U.S. company by another? The U.S. Department of Justice has already approved the deal. How would the EU feel if the U.S. government decided that it should have veto rights over acquisitions by say SAP or Nokia?

To me, this is quite different from the EU battles with Microsoft over its monopoly powerplays, such as the most recent fight over how to allow users free choice of their Web browsers in Windows 7. The EU has a right to protect their citizens from a monopoly — something which the U.S. seems to have forgotten about after slapping Microsoft years ago. But this? This, I can't see.

If Oracles engages in illegal anti-competitive activities after the deal, then I can see the EU going after Oracle. As it is, the EU has put the deal on hold for at least four months, and proprietary companies, including Microsoft, which oppose Sun/Oracle will only do the better for it.

I expect some of Sun's open-source projects, such as OpenSolaris, to get the ax. I also worry that OpenOffice and VirtualBox may suffer under Oracle's management. But MySQL? Please! MySQL is going to do just fine, and that's no reason for the EC to try to block this deal.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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