To be (free) or not to be (free)

Tonight at 4:30 AM, USA Pacific time, my phone started to ring; it was a call from a Sun employee saying that Oracle has bought Sun and he wanted to join Monty Program Ab.

Shortly after that I got a call from a Swedish newspaper, Computer Sweden, who asked me about my opinion about why Oracle would buy Sun.

The reasons I see why Oracle is buying Sun are:
  • Sun is making big hardware, that is easy to bundle with very big Oracle installations.
  • Sun is making very good, reliable Intel boxes that work well for database usage.
  • Sun's virtualization product, VirtualBox
  • Sun tape Storage, very well suited for efficiency database backups etc.
  • Sun has done a lot of advanced work in cloud computing (even if Sun has not yet been able to monetize it)
  • OpenSolaris, that would be a much better offer to Oracle's customers than their Oracle Linux platform, which doesn't provide any notable value over RedHat.
  • Java
  • And, of course, MySQL

What could be Oracle's plan with MySQL? Three different plans come to mind:
  • They are going to kill MySQL (either directly or by not developing/supporting it fully)
  • MySQL will get sold of to another entity, either because Oracle doesn't want it or becasue of anti-trust laws.
  • They will embrace MySQL and Open Source and put their technical expertise on it to ensure that MySQL continues to be the most popular advanced Open Source database.

I am putting my hopes to the third option, but for succeeding in that Oracle has to also learn a lot about open source development and working with the community.

This brings up the question, once again, how can one own an Open Source Project. Patrick Galbraith, summed up his feelings in a recent blog post, , that the "ownership" of Free and open source projects has more to do with who provides the best stewardship of the code, rather than who owns a trademark.

I don't think that anyone can own an open source project; the projects are defined by the de-facto project leaders and the developers that are working on the project. If the company loses the trust of these people, they can go away and fork the project and turn it the way they want to.

Sun's acquisition of MySQL did not go smoothly; most of the MySQL leaders (both commercial and project) have left Sun and the people who are left are sitting with their CV and ready to press send.

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".

Here I see where Monty Program Ab, can play a significant role. Since I left Sun, I have been working on making it to be for Sun what Fedora is for RedHat. With Oracle now owning MySQL, I think that the need for an independent true Open Source entity for MySQL is even bigger than ever before.

The biggest threat to MySQL future is not Oracle per se, but that the MySQL talent at Sun will spread like the wind and go to a lot of different companies which will set the MySQL development and support back years.

I would not like to see this happen and I am doing everything I can do to keep this talent pool together (after all, most of them are long time personal friends of mine). I am prepared to hire or find a good home (either at Monty Program Ab or close to it) for all core MySQL personnel.

I am looking forward to working closely with Oracle (or whoever in the end gets to own MySQL) to ensure that there always exists a free branch of MYSQL that is actively develop in an open manner and has that trust and support of the MySQL customers, developers and users.

Mr. Ellison, you are undoubtably a master tactician. However, thinking two moves ahead in the open source world is not good enough. You need strategy. Long term, meaningful, viable strategy. You need to think years ahead, not just to the next fiscal quarter.

I'd love to speak with you about it.


Viksit said...

Well said!

Feoktist said...

How much if their technical expertise Oracle put on InnoDB since acquisition in October, 2005?

scuffster said...

Oracle has been a supporter of a number of open-source projects for some time. Other aquisitions have included open source components (e.g. BerkleyDB). There is no track record of Oracle killing these off. It's even less likely with something as significant as mySQL.

Oracle has made significant contributions to the Linux community (e.g. OFS). Aquiring mySQL gives Oracle a significant foot in the door to the mySQL serviced based revenue model ... something which we may well see a lot more of.

Robert Fischer said...

Has anyone ever sat down with a team when deciding technology and said, "Hmmm...what do we do? Open negotiatons with Oracle for licensing, or go with a free MySQL install?" I doubt it.

The markets for Oracle and MySQL are wildly different. Given that, I see an obvious reason why Oracle would want to hold onto stewardship of the FOSS MySQL product: it gives them a foothold into the entry-level market which they've previously explicitly abandoned. Now, I'm not sure MySQL Enterprise Edition has much of a future (at least, not in a recognizable form), but that's a different conversation.

Worse, if Oracle does decide to abandon the FOSS MySQL product, they're basically going to end up either 1) creating a market for FOSS MySQL under a different monicker and out of their control, or 2) consolidating/bolstering other FOSS database communities (e.g. postgresql), which are similarly out of their control.

Quite frankly, I see the FOSS MySQL product as a better business value for Oracle than for Sun -- Sun's purchase of MySQL has always been a confusing move for me, and I could only account for by imagining Sun wanted the FOSS community cred and was willing to pay big money for it.

My hope is that Oracle's purchase of Sun was a drive to get back into the FOSS/Java game, which Oracle's not done well in, to say the least...

Kaushik Katari said...

Thank you for being engaged and thinking of your colleagues post-acquisition. Being an employee of a small company that got acquired by Oracle, I know morale drops quickly.

Here is a question for you, and perhaps a bigger opportunity for your company. Why work with Oracle? Why not take the fork, and get somebody like Yahoo or Google to support it. I went to a talk by Yahoo on how they are using and supporting Hadoop. They had at one point thought about developing their own Map Reduce algorithm, but then chose to adopt Hadoop, and the community is definitely the richer for it. They have further introduced Pig, and I think they will keep moving this forward.

Oracle does not gain anything from a thriving MySQL database. It is a small nuisance at best, and a real threat to their core revenue at worst. Yahoo and Google probably already have stellar patches to MySQL, much like Percona, and they gain a lot by seeing MySQL thrive.

Vineet said...

We are talking about MySQL, the most popular database among the web community. I doubt that anyone, including ORACLE, would kill MySQL. The best option for ORACLE would be to keep it going in the same way as SUN did. This would need assuarances on ORACLE's part, but then who knows what were they thinking when they decided to buy SUN. They got 4 or 5 targets in just one shot.
And then there is JAVA factor is also there. JAVA one of the superb and popular languages, is widely employed in enterprise level application. Actually I JAVA and MySQL are the two things we would need to keep an eye on.
Monty, do you have any comments about JAVA.

Marcel Lanz said...

If you didn't sell MySQL to Sun, you'd be in a better position and don't have to speak with someone other that "owns" MySQL now.

I don't know the curricumstances, but what was your strategy when you sold MySQL to Sun ? You should knew, that Sun is not in great shape in the end of 2007 when you got the money for that.

Anonymous said...

Why doesnt Oracle have a good reputation in opensource? They were the first major company to support Linux with their DB providing an unbelievable push into the corporate datacenter. They have made significant contriutions to the kernel - they have their own kernel dev team. They have a number of open source projects of their own - OCFS is obvious but the http://oss.oracle.com/ website has others. They have generated a new version of InnoDB pretty much every quarter since they bought it.

DO they really have to opensource their DB for you to say they are good to the OSS community? why is that??? What exactly have they done to stifle OSS?

Pablo Viquez said...

From the FAQ document:

"What does Oracle plan to do with MySQL?
MySQL will be an addition to Oracle’s existing suite of database products, which already includes Oracle Database 11g, TimesTen, Berkeley DB open source database, and the open source transactional storage engine, InnoDB."

Unknown said...

This sounds like something good to talk about at LinuxFest on Saturday (4/25) in Bellingham.

I'm looking forward to your presentation.

irvingprime said...

The migration of talent away from Sun and now from Oracle is symptomatic of the cultural differences between a big corporate product like Oracle and an open product like Mysql. They don't think alike.

If Oracle can't keep the people, it won't be long before it also can't find anyone who understands the product and the community that uses it, though it may not recognize the problem.

I suspect they don't really know what they've bought (the Mysql part of Sun, I mean) and will not be able to figure out what to do with it.

The best hope for a future for Mysql is therefore in a fork, completely independent of the budding Oracle debacle.

Anonymous said...

Monty, I think Oracle is going to try to kill MySQL by neglect.

I started switching over to PostgreSQL earlier this year and the purchase of Sun by Oracle is not good news.

Also, why on earth are MySQL's system tables not in InnoDB?!?

Valery said...

Vain hopes about Larry.

Anonymous said...

"First, Monty Says: to be (free) or not to be (free), that is the question. He projects three possible ways Oracle could treat MySQL[...]"

Log Buffer #143

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Monty. I agree with nearly all of what you said. it also inspired me to make a blog post of my own.

Unknown said...

So we are going to get a MyOracle now??? ;D


Unknown said...

Mr. Ellison, you are undoubtably a master tactician. However, thinking two moves ahead in the open source world is not good enough.

Just one move ahead!

Lucian said...

Great post Monty! I think you should cover it in your speech at eLiberatica this year.
MySQL should be forked and the new branch should became what was the original one when you and the team started. If not, this will be one of the biggest loss not only for the FLOSS community.

Monty said...

About why system tables are not of type InnoDB:
The main reason for this was that MySQL didn't want to totally depending on Oracle, until we had a watertight contract we could trust (which we never was able to finalize).
After the deal Oracle/Sun deals goes trough this isn't a problem anymore, so I assume things will change soon.

Monty said...

About selling MySQL to Sun:

It was the board of directors that decided to sell MySQL to Sun (not me); I was not even at the Board at this time.

As can be read in my earlier blog posts, I was trilled when Sun was buying MySQL as I thought that Sun would fix our development organization to be more community driven and also have better processes.

I really wanted to stay in Sun to and help them both with fixing the MySQL probelms and help Sun with their open source strategies.

In the end things didn't work out and the MySQL group where in a process of loosing a lot talent. It was to ensure that we don't loose the talent from the MySQL echo system and to create a truly community developed version of MySQL, MariaDB, that I left Sun and created Monty Program Ab.

Monty said...

About Java:

Everything I have heard is that Oracle sees Java to be one of the core products in Sun that they value highly. Java will give also give Oracle an edge over Microsoft, which is in Oracles core interest.

I am sure that Oracle will continue to invest heavily in Java and I see a bright future for it.

Anonymous said...

Larry Ellison has never thought 2 moves ahead unless you mean 2 moves ahead of what everyone else is thinking. You may or may not like him but once again he is coming out on top in very difficult times. I do hope however that MySQL Enterprise support remains as good as it was under Sun. and that he doesn't kill MySQL by either letting it die on the vine, or jacking up the price of the so high that nobody chooses to buy it. I also hope he keeps the free version going.

Unknown said...

Of course Monty, if you hadn't sold you soul for the big bucks, this would be a moot point.

Nevertheless, why let Oracle hold all the cards. Just fork MySQL to a new project. There would be a large exodus to it.

Matrich said...

I am grateful I found this article as it has helped clear most of my questions about the acquisition. I see like we might end up with Mambo-Joomla situation BUT I am much glad the founder and developers weren't part of the deal.

Waiting to see how everything goes...

Unknown said...

I have never commented on your blog before, this is the first time. I think you are one of the greatest programmers of all time but your entrepreneurial skills aren't proving potent enough in the face of rising adversary.

Oracle will kill MySql for sure, and in all probability the top managers of Sun and Oracle knew what was coming way back in Feb 2008. Only you were kept in the dark.
Would you have sold MySql to Oracle, if they had approached you? But you would sure to Sun, this everybody knew, whoever followed your speeches/blogs.
Selling to Sun was THE MISTAKE, admit it.

MySQL which holds 90% of the Web's backend data is in great danger. The Web is in danger.
You have been kicked out of Sun, you can do nothing. Nor can we, mere outsiders. Let's watch God (Larry Ellison) kill the child(MySQL) we all loved.

Monty said...

About selling MySQL to Sun:

Yes, it's true that I was very positive that MySQL got sold to Sun and I think that, under different circumstances, it would have worked out quite well.

I did however not have anything to do with the decision to sell to Sun.
This was done by the MySQL board without any input from me.

If I would have been asked, I would have agreed to it. In my opinion, Sun was, and still is, a much better option for MySQL than if we would have gone public. In that case MySQL would been split into pieces much sooner than it will be split now.

Kas said...

Well said!!
Well I'm italian, I'm IT sale not programmer but give a reason and I come in USA to work with you!!
Joking :) lol i'm not profiled to but I hope to see and have in the future more people like you.Pity in my opinion to sell MYSql to Oracle simly because an open source project to a classic company like Oracle is the same to put a bird in a cage.


Akter Md. Ali said...

I have two points. Now I have no hesitation to say that Open Source preachers are leading us toward uncertain futures by letting us embrace their products and later selling their own souls to million dollars. Shame!

Oracle sales people recently offered me Sun Oracle Database Machine. I asked them, will you be able to give me Sun MySQL Database Machine as well? They remained quiet and not even replied my mail. So think what is in their mind about MySQL.

Anonymous said...

I have never been so upset as this time when i am left to watch the death of my beloved DB mySQL, i am a web developer and i think the only option to save mySQL would be that if Google or yahoo aquire it fron Oracle and Guard it ....