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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.

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