Of Oracle, Sun and Open Development

Time for shivers in IT as the big news of Oracle buying Sun is more than likely to have someone worried. It’s too early to know whether Oracle will disembowel Sun and sell its mortal remains, butcher MySQL into Oracle CE (Children Edition, that is) or just see the light and do something truly innovative, yet I’m sure there are a few of those “good riddance Oracle, hello MySQL” corporate players who thought the Oracle sales man was gone for good, and who could really do without him reappearing fresh from a new tooth-sharpening session, and ready to chew IT budgets to shreds.

My sympathy goes to all of them who fell into (yet another) Commercial Open Source trap: the lesson is potentially hard indeed, but it could be argued it’s well deserved. Companies are bought and sold all the time, and it would have been nothing short of myopic to ignore that Sun (and henceforth MySQL) was ripe for acquisition, with Oracle being a potential buyer. All of a sudden, corporate eggs are likely to need the same old, worn-out and horrendously expensive data basket anyways, and that will not feel good to many out there. Yet, they could and should have seen it coming or at least account for it.

I’m sure someone will note that even in the worst case scenario of Oracle ditching MySQL, there is still the right to fork and all the Free Software mumbo-jumbo (MySQL will always remain free, anyone can innovate on top of it, yadda-yadda). The sad truth is that forking is an extreme measure, and extreme measures are, well, extremes and difficult to undertake. And let’s not forget how the GPL in this cases tends to turn into Saturn’s child-eating mode, as it makes extremely hard to gather a successful and diverse community: when there is no motivation to contribute except from freedom for freedom sake, there is no way to build a community that cares for something more than freedom itself. Also, I can hardly imagine anyone building a real commercial alternative to now-Oracle’s MySQL: with Larry Ellison owning and controlling the IP in such a strict way, why should anyone but long-tailish small shops take such a huge risk with very little reward? It’s likely that the answer is “no one”, unless some big guy wants to return Oracle the “Unbreakable Linux” favor – and fail at it, of course.

As I pointed out in the past (ironically, in a conversation with MySQL), diversity matters: if MySQL was a project governed by a neutral and diverse community, with a liberal license taking commercial interests into account, we might have seen a different story today. Maybe this is an opportunity for more open (and sustainable!) alternatives such as PostgreSQL to shine despite being constantly ignored by analysts and press? Maybe next time corporate buyers will take sustainability and open development into account instead than focusing on Open Source smoke and mirrors? Or, at a very least, understand that the Open Source vendor they are dealing with is on the market and likely to be ripe for an acquisition by God knows who, and plan accordingly? Maybe analysts will finally understand that the Open Core module is just a remix on stuff companies around established communities such as Apache have been doing for ages, but without the sustainable bit coming from healthy communities? Or will we just chug along, waiting for the next rude awakening?

Unfortunately, I’m afraid I know the answer.

4 Responses to “Of Oracle, Sun and Open Development”


  1. 1 Joseph A. di Paolantonio

    I agree with all that you’re saying about licensing and open core strategies. But it seems that Oracle has been a good open source player with InnoDB and BerkeleyDB/Sleepycat and might be so with MySQL, Glassfish, Mural MDM projects and the other F/LOSS projects being acquired with the Sun deal.

  2. 2 niq

    Interesting thesis. Sufficiently interesting I felt compelled to respond: http://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/he-told-us-so/

  1. 1 He told us so! « niq’s soapbox
  2. 2 Are liberal licenses a better future proofing? - Technology

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