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Oracle Buys SUN; MySQL is Forked

Oracle picks up SUN for $7.4 billion and gets MySQL in the bargain. Did the world's most popular open source database just get put on life support. Or have it's plug pulled?

With the announcement of Oracle’s intent to acquire Sun Microsystems (and with it MySQL) for $7.4B coming at roughly the same time that the 2009 MySQL Conference & Expo was just spinning up, it didn’t take long for individuals to begin airing their thoughts on Twitter:

schwartz skips pre-MySQL Conference lunch. i’m thinking he’s going to tahiti. for a long time.

I believe that sums up the tumultuous 16-month relationship between Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and MySQL rather well.

Since purchasing MySQL in January 2008, Schwartz oversaw continued MySQL growth in spite of a disasterous release of version 5.1, the exodus the key project developers, the resignation of MySQL co-founders Monty Widenius and David Axmark as well as MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, and no fewer than three major forks of the GPL’d database.

In some respects, I’m just happy to see the train wreck come to an end.

So now that the world’s largest commercial proprietary database vendor will soon be owning the world’s largest open source database project, what fate awaits the troubled MySQL?

The Dawn of a New Day?

There are optimists that believe that Oracle sees real opportunity with MySQL. Former MySQL CEO, Mickos, being one of them:

They can kill the business. But I don’t think they will. Larry Ellison is smart. MySQL was getting around 70,000 downloads a day when I left. It’s an amazing grip on young developers. Having MySQL makes business sense for Oracle.

Mickos believes that Oracle will leverage MySQL to upsell their proprietary database and better compete with Microsoft on the low-end (where Oracle lacks an effective product mix). That said, all those daily downloads do not necessarily translate into revenue on the scale that Oracle is accustomed to dealing with. Mickos knows this as well as anyone.

Still, Micko’s argument makes sense. MySQL has the strong backing of young developers and a enormous install base. One wouldn’t think they’d want to stifle that momentum.

At least that’s what you’d think. But that’s exactly what many people believe Oracle did with it’s acquisition of Siebel; effectively stalling the company so Oracle could better promote their internal products and services. Draw your own conclusions.

Death By a Thousand Cuts

The opposing camp believes that Oracle purchased MySQL only to kill it.

I believe an outright dismissal of the project is unlikely. What is more probable is that the company will continue the policies that Sun has put in place over the past year; allow the project to drift rudderless, without strong leadership and without the resources to develop and manage it properly.

This, I can almost guarantee you, is the direction Oracle will take. Why? Let’s say, for the benefit of argument, that even if Oracle does wish to actively promote the development and distribution of MySQL, they have a problem on day one: There’s no one left to do the work.

Most of the MySQL project leaders and executive team left Sun some time ago and, says Monty Widenius on his blog, “the people who are left are sitting with their CV and ready to press send.”

Even with the best intentions, Oracle faces serious trust issues from within and without stemming from how the company has dealt with open source in the past. Widenius continues:

Oracle, not having the best possible reputation in the Open Source space, will have a hard time keeping the remaining MySQL people in the company or even working on the MySQL project. Oracle will also have a hard time to ensure to the MySQL customers, community and users that it will keep MySQL “free and available for all”.

Oracle’s experience with open source isn’t all bad, but they certainly aren’t one to tout OSS successes (other than the dubious Oracle Enterprise Linux). When’s the last time you heard any news coming out of Berkeley DB?.

Don’t Blame Oracle

MySQL as we knew it was dead some time ago.

It will be easy to point the finger at Oracle 1-2 years from now and assign to them the blame for what will ultimately befall one of the most successful open source projects ever created. But the fact is is that Sun bungled the acquisition of MySQL, managed it poorly for 16 months and is handing the mess off to Oracle.

Whether or not Oracle decides to take on the job of fixing MySQL and allowing it a seat at the table remains to be seen. In the meantime, while we wait for dinner to be served, I suggest stocking up on forks.

Comments on "Oracle Buys SUN; MySQL is Forked"

scathew

I guess I hadn’t followed all the ups and downs of MySQL, but in some sense it can’t fail. If it fails WordPress and a 100 other Open Source applications also fail, so someone it seems to me is likely to step up here.

I mean, are people going to go back to PostgreSQL? mSQL? The blogosphere is literally built on MySQL.

All of us without blogs out there can’t afford Oracle engines (nor the horsepower they require) so it’s a bit hard to believe one of the forks won’t take over.

That’s not to say you might not be right about its demise, but it seems a little sensational at the moment.

Reply
greimer

It is true that when Sun, the company that ‘owns’ MySQL (as much as anybody can own such an open-source codebase with a commercial venture attached to it), gets acquired by the largest commercial proprietary database software organization in the world, one has to be at least a little bit concerned for MySQL’s future. But it seems to me that to view this entire acquisition as a conspiracy to ‘kill off’ MySQL is a little overly self-centered on the part of Mr. Richards and the MySQL community.

Sun Microsystems was not in very good financial shape; absent such an acquisition, the company might go under. With it would go alot of whatever diversity is left in commercially active CPU’s, as well as what is arguably the best commercial alternative to MS Windows as an Operating System. I believe that these alternatives are healthy things to have, I do not believe that an Intel(-and-compatible)-only world is a good idea, and I also believe that there should be other-than-Opensource alternatives to the MS-hegemony.

As an enthusiast for Linux, OpenSolaris, and open source in general, I do hope that Oracle tries to make good use of MySQL as an entre into lower-end competition with Microsoft SQL as the article outlines. It seems to make sense. But even if Larry Ellison doesn’t like that idea, the fate of MySQL is still just as much in the hands of it’s enthusiasts as in Oracle’s. It’s still Open Source, you still have the code.

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dwolsten

I disagree; we do not need other-than-opensource alternatives to the MS-hegemony. If such alternatives were economically viable, then Sun wouldn’t be on the verge of going under.

Face it, most computer users (including IT people, CTOs, etc.) are too brainwashed or stupid to care about anything other than what MS shovels them. And if Linux hadn’t come literally out of nowhere (business-speaking), Unix would probably be completely dead by now. The main reason Linux is as popular as it is is because it’s free, Free, and open-source. Every other commercial Unix out there has been on life support for a long time, mainly surviving because of legacy installations, which have steadily been moving to either Windows or Linux.

There simply isn’t enough money in the OS market to support OSes other than Windows, Mac, and Linux. Not enough people are willing to pay the high price tag of other non-OSS OSes, or willing to deal with having to deal with yet another not-fully-compatible OS.

You can argue all you want about how supposedly great Solaris is for certain applications, but obviously, that wasn’t sufficient to keep Sun alive on its own.

CPUs are the same way; there’s really no good reason any more to have non-Intel CPUs. They’re faster than everything else out there, they’re cheap, and they run all the software that exists, whether on Windows or on Linux (or even on Mac). Users don’t care about what instruction set their CPU uses; even developers don’t care much about that either, since no one programs in assembly any more (unless they’re programming an 8-bit microcontroller). Of course, this actually ignores the fact that there’s another kind of CPU out there that rivals Intel architecture for number of installed units: ARM. But those aren’t used in desktop or server computers. As before, if it were economically viable for there to be non-Intel CPUs in these markets, they would be there. But SPARC is the last holdout, besides IBM’s mainframes, and it’s going the way of the do-do because it just doesn’t provide enough bang-for-the-buck over Intel architecture.

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skyscum

This is why so many of us who use Open Source products are so deeply in love with ORM frameworks. Yank out MySQL, insert PostGres, and continue without a pause.
We’re already evaluating exactly that at the university I support.

Reply
slasher01

I’d also like to see an analysis of what’s likely to happen to OpenOffice.org. Is there any reason why Oracle would want to continue supporting the project and if not, what is the likely fate of the project?

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graemeharrison

Yes, I worry when ANY freebie division is acquired by a fat-margin for-profit organisation. I’m sure they genuinely believe they will be able to gain ‘synergies’ by having people ‘upgrade’ to the paid-for offering… But over time, such people’s support for the ‘squatters’ (people who use but will never really pay) will diminish, and MySQL will get fewer new features, and OpenOffice will be off on its own, seeking donations etc. In the end, the corporate fit can be like a banker trying to run a charity!

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njsharp

I read concern in the above comments about (1) MySQL and (2) OpenOffice.org. I share those concerns, and also wonder, perhaps from ignorance, about the future of (3) Java. I believe Oracle products (not rich enough to have any myself) make big use of Java, so I guess there is a self interest there.

I just hope that the OracleM$ struggle is keen enough to keep all three in good shape, and advancing. I’d really like to read a top Oracle spokesperson’s statement:

* Oracle will continue aggressively to develop 1,2,3 and continue to make full community versions available for free download
* Because…? That is, Oracle’s business rationale for so doing, given that there is (at least with MySQL) SOME possible conflict of interest.

Here’s hoping Linux Mag will take up the challenge to get such a statement out of Oracle.

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david

I guess one can pose this conspiracy theorem, Sun could have had some sort of agreement with Oracle to make the move for MySql, of course Sun Microsystem has better chances to acquire MySql than Oracle that feels threatened by the growth of MySql, and after successful acquisition of MySql by Sun, then Oracle can then make their move in order to achieve their objectives.

You know business people now understand tactical and strategic languages of the military and speak those languages and implement their plans with high dexterities.

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claudio.nanni

The worst case is the slow death, let it go on making believe the ‘distracted’ users that it is still the good old glorious database keeping some developing community working on it thinking they are bringing on the project.
The sudden death would be much better, in this case the real mysql developing community should only think of a new name, Oracle’s ‘MySQL’ is just a brand, now.

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Oracle Buys SUN; MySQL is Forked | Linux Magazine
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