Opposition mounts to Oracle's MySQL acquisition

The EC (European Commission), the European Union's top competition authority, isn't crazy about Oracle buying Sun. You might have thought it was just open-source advocates objecting to the deal out of the fear that Oracle, the world's biggest proprietary DBMS (database management systems) company, would close down the most popular open-source DBMS. You'd be wrong. Microsoft wants to block the deal, too.

As Mary Jo Foley reported recently, Microsoft is arguing that Oracle shouldn't be allowed to buy Sun. According to my sources, the reason why Microsoft wants to block the deal has nothing to do with MySQL remaining open source. It's all about making sure Oracle can't use MySQL as a low-cost alternative to SQL Server on the low end.

Microsoft's only toehold in serious DBMS work is in the SMB (small-to-medium business) space. Open source or not, a low-price MySQL with Oracle branding could boot Microsoft out of this line. They really, really don't want to see that.

And they're not the only ones. Officially, IBM has been mostly quiet about the deal -- but off the record, I'm told that IBM hates the idea of Oracle getting its hands on MySQL. As well they should. IBM has its own dog in the DBMS fights, DB2.

The EC, however, isn't worried over who's the top dog in DBMSs. The EC worries, as Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes put it in a statement, about "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]."

At the same time, some open-source advocates don't see a problem with Oracle buying MySQL as part of its Sun deal. Eben Moglen, the founder and executive director of the SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center) and the well-known open-source legal expert, argues, "The whole point of GPL [the open-source license that covers MySQL] as a copyright license is to deal with every contingency that could result in hobbling or destroying the freedom of code shared under it. The drafters of GPL versions 2 and 3 considered scenarios very similar to the ones that the Commission is concerned about now. The design of the license, and the experience we have had using it, show that it can be counted upon to operate as intended in situations like this one."

In other words, as far as Moglen is concerned, Oracle can't lock down MySQL even if they wanted to. Others, however, see it completely differently. On December 12th, Michael "Monty" Widenius, the creator of MySQL, publicly asked "to help save MySQL from Oracle's clutches."

Widenius argued that Oracle would keep MySQL around but at the same time make sure it could never compete with Oracle's proprietary and pricey DBMS offerings. "I just don't buy it that Oracle will be a good home for MySQL. A weak MySQL is worth about one billion dollars per year to Oracle, maybe more. A strong MySQL could never generate enough income for Oracle that they would want to cannibalize their real cash cow," wrote Widenius.

He has a point.

There are lots of reasons to oppose this deal, and some of them have everything to do with good old-fashioned competition, which is where Microsoft comes in, but there are other reasons to think that Oracle acquiring MySQL wouldn't do open-source DBMB users any good, even with GPL's protections.

At the end of the day, I find myself agreeing with those who oppose the deal. When all is said and done, I'm in favor of competition and open source. Why would Oracle want to encourage open-source competition to their main products and services from within their own company? I can't think of any good reason. Can you?

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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