The importance of the license model of MySQL or Can MySQL be killed?

In this blog post I will try to answer some of the most common questions I have heard during the last week:

A. Can MySQL be killed?

1. The easiest way to kill MySQL would be to not sell licenses any more or make their prices 'really high'.

2. Another scenario is that the development resources are drastically reduced in some important areas. Then people would stop believing in the future of MySQL, which slowly will kill the product. Especially if the present license is in place. (Remember that most of the development of the core of MySQL is done by the developers at SUN, not by a large community)

B. "But anyone can fork it!"

One can fork a GPL project (i.e. the code), but one can't easily duplicate the economic infrastructure around it.

MySQL is not an end user application, but an infrastructure project that is quite deep in the system stack. Most of the technology partners, where most of the innovation in the MySQL space happen nowadays, depend on being able to get licenses for MySQL so that they can combine their closed source application or closed code (like storage engines) with MySQL. If you take the license revenue and add it to all direct and indirect money that comes from these kind of partners, this is a huge part of the MySQL economic infrastructure (i.e., where the money is).

A fork of an infrastructure GPL project can't work with any of the above mentioned partners and the fork can't be used by anyone who needs to distribute it with their own closed source parts or use it with others closed source parts. If there would be no way for partners to combine their code with MySQL, these partners and users would have to put their efforts on some other project and the money flow and a big part of the innovation around MySQL would stop. Over time other projects that allow everyone to participate and make money will take over the MySQL business.

It's possible to create companies doing support for MySQL, but without the economics, there will not be enough money and incentive to pay enough for the development of MySQL to satisfy the requirement of all the MySQL users. Any such company will just make MySQL 'die slower', but not be able to save it.

The simple fact is that keeping a project like MySQL alive and having it compete with big vendors like Oracle, require many people working in it. If they can't get any revenue from doing that (except support revenue, which is not enough), you will find very few companies prepared to do development and extremely few (or none) investment company would put serious money on a company that gets all of it's money on services (not scalable).

Another thing, like Richard Stallman pointed out, is that MySQL is only available under GPL2 and can't be combined with GPL3 code. This means that new Free software projects that uses GPL3 can't use MySQL. This is a problem, but less severe than the problem of economics.

C. "Is GPL not a good enough license?"

I think that GPL is a fantastic license. It ensures that projects under the GPL are kept free. At the same time it allows companies that wants to participate in Open Source to make enough money to be able to develop the product full time. GPL ensures that these companies can keep tight control on the product and especially on their (closed source) technology partners. This is why investors are interested to invest in companies that use GPL; They know that no one can just come and fork the product and take everything away from company that holds the copyright to the code.

D. Conclusion

It's safe to assume that both Sun and Oracle understand this. This is why Sun bought MySQL for a high valuation and this is why Oracle doesn't want MySQL to be divested.

If it would be easy to take over MySQL by just forking it, Sun would never have bought MySQL and Oracle would have forked MySQL a long time ago instead of now trying to buy it as part of the SUN deal.


Press release concerning Oracle/Sun



Michael 'Monty' Widenius says European Commission is "absolutely right to be concerned" about proposed merger between Oracle Corporation [ORCL] and Sun Microsystems [JAVA], nominates award-winning EU strategist to support the proceeding

Tuusula, Finland, 19 October 2009 -- Michael 'Monty' Widenius, the creator of open source database MySQL and founder of the namesake company later acquired by Sun, today suggested Oracle should resolve antitrust concerns over its US$7.4 billion acquisition of Sun by committing to sell MySQL to a suitable third party. The proposed takeover has not yet been consummated because it is being investigated in depth by the European Commission as well as competition authorities in several other jurisdictions.

Widenius, who posted this press release to his blog, believes the EU's antitrust regulator is "absolutely right to be concerned" and called on Oracle "to be constructive and commit to sell MySQL to a suitable third party, enabling an instant solution instead of letting Sun suffer much longer."

The Finnish software developer and entrepreneur wishes Sun "all the best, but MySQL needs a different home than Oracle, a home where there will be no conflicts of interest concerning how, or if, MySQL should be developed further."

MySQL was the only Sun business unit to be mentioned in the EC's early September announcement of its in-depth investigation into the proposed takeover.

Acquirers commonly resolve regulatory concerns (before, during or after an investigation) by committing to divest problematic assets to a third party. By contrast, Oracle and Sun officials have thus far insisted they continue to seek approval of the entire transaction, irrespectively of Sun currently losing, according to Oracle, $100 million a month.

In order to support the regulators' work on the case, Widenius' new company, Monty Program Ab, works closely with Florian Mueller, a MySQL and EU affairs expert. Widenius said: "Florian gave MySQL strategic advice from 2001 on and was a shareholder until the sale to Sun in 2008, and with our support led an award-winning campaign against a proposed EU law on software patents. In August he helped us to demonstrate to the EC the need to investigate this merger and he is now on board again to meet the information needs of regulators, journalists and analysts."

According to Mueller, "every day that passes without Oracle excluding MySQL from the deal is further evidence that Oracle just wants to get rid of its open source challenger and that the EU's investigation is needed to safeguard innovation and customer choice. This is highly critical because the entire knowledge-based economy is built on databases."

Mueller demands more respect for the EC: "It's inappropriately arrogant for some interested parties to suggest that the EC has yet to understand the case. The EC is really doing a great job under huge time pressure."

In what he calls "a solution-oriented information effort that is now necessary after other parties made public statements on the case in recent weeks", Mueller announced that he will be available to journalists and analysts in Brussels (Wednesday, 21 October), London (Thursday, 22 October) and Silicon Valley (Monday, 26 October) to discuss the case.

In August, Mueller authored a position paper that Monty Program provided to the EC along with several other submissions. The latest version of the document was published today on the Internet.

About Michael 'Monty' Widenius and Monty Program Ab

Michael 'Monty' Widenius is the creator of MySQL, the world's most popular open source database. In 2001, he founded the namesake company that was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2008 for a total consideration of approximately US$1 billion. The European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (EVCA) named this transaction the "European Venture Capital Deal of the Year 2008". On a previous occasion, Widenius had been named the Finnish Software Entrepreneur of the Year 2003.

A visionary leader of the open source community, Widenius created MySQL's dual-licensing business model together with co-founder David Axmark. MySQL became the first piece of software to be available alternatively under a commercial license or the Free Software Foundation's GPL.

In 2009, Widenius left Sun and created a new company, Monty Program Ab, based in Tuusula (Helsinki area), Finland. Monty Program Ab develops MariaDB and the Maria database storage engine and other MySQL-related technologies. The company is a founding member of the Open Database Alliance.

Monty Program Ab corporate website

Michael Widenius' blog

About Florian Mueller

Florian Mueller is a software industry veteran with 24 years of experience (starting as an author at age 15) as well as an award-winning EU policy strategist. Previously founder and CEO of a startup he sold to the Telefónica group, Mueller became in 2001 an adviser to MySQL's then-CEO on corporate strategy and held shares in the company until its sale.

In 2004, Mueller created a campaign in 17 languages against a proposal for European patent legislation, finally rejected by the European Parliament in a historic decision at the end of a bitterly contested process. The Economist Group's European Voice named Mueller the EU Campaigner of the Year 2005 (a prestigious award that went to Pope John Paul II in 2002 and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007). Managing Intellectual Property named Mueller to its list of the 50 most influential people in intellectual property (2005 and 2006). In 2005 he also received a CNET UK award (Outstanding Contribution to Software Development) and made it to the list of Silicon.com's 50 "Silicon Agenda Setters".

In 2007, Mueller successfully defended the EU-related interests of Real Madrid CF, the world's most famous soccer club with approximately 200 million fans worldwide.

Contact data

For further information concerning this news release, please contact Florian Mueller (telephone: +49-171-2632226, email: florian.mueller@live.com).