As the European Commission continues to evaluate the potentially deleterious effects of Oracle's proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems and its open-source MySQL database, concern is rising that delay will harm MySQL without helping competition.
One who shares this concern is former MySQL CEO Mårten Mickos. On Thursday, Mickos sent a letter to Neelie Kroes, the European Union's competition commissioner, urging that the deal be approved for the good of the market and MySQL. He also spoke with CNET News' Stephen Shankland on Thursday.
Below is the edited full text of the letter.
Helsinki 8 Oct 2009
Mrs. Neelie Kroes Commissioner for Competition European Commission, J70 B-1049 Brussels/Brussel BELGIQUE/BELGIE
Dear Commissioner Kroes,
I am writing to you regarding your review of Oracle's pending acquisition of Sun Microsystems. As I understand it, the EU Commission is concerned about a risk of undue concentration of power in the database market. Having been the CEO of MySQL from 2001 to 2009, and built a business that was serving a new market unmet by Oracle and others, I can agree with the questions posed, but I do not share the concerns that have been expressed. In the following, I will explain why.
In brief, my reasoning is as follows:
Oracle has as many compelling business reasons to continue the ramp-up of the MySQL business as Sun Microsystems and MySQL previously did, or even more. Even if Oracle, for whatever reason, would have malicious or ignorant intent regarding MySQL (not that I think so), the positive and massive influence MySQL has on the DBMS market cannot be controlled by a single entity--not even by the owner of the MySQL assets. The users of MySQL exert a more powerful influence in the market than the owner does.
Many expected Oracle to harm MySQL as far back as 2005, when they acquired the InnoDB storage engine that plays a crucial role for many MySQL customers. And yet Oracle increased their investment in InnoDB since that time, making MySQL a stronger player in the market.
For further detail on my views on Oracle's intent, please see this interview with me in Forbes Magazine in April 2009.
It may at first blush seem counterintuitive that control of the MySQL assets does not automatically bestow control of the MySQL installed base. But the free installed base of MySQL--enormous on a planetary scale--is voluntarily but not mandatorily coupled to the commercial market of MySQL. It produces huge benefits to the MySQL business, but it is not controlled by it.
The impetus to write this letter comes from my concern with the talented teams of the MySQL business unit and of Sun Microsystems in general. I am also troubled by certain factual distortions about a subject matter that I am intimately familiar with: MySQL and its business model. Open-source business models are complicated and quite different, and it took many years to fully understand and shape the one of MySQL.
A Finnish citizen, I served as chief executive officer of MySQL from early 2001 to February 2008, when Sun acquired MySQL. After that, I served as senior vice president of the database group at Sun until the end of March 2009. Being the only person to have served as the CEO of MySQL and to have attended every board meeting ever held, I believe I have unique insights into these matters.
To be clear, I resigned from my position in March 2009, and I presently have no commercial or financial interests in the MySQL ecosystem, Sun, or Oracle (or any other vendor in the DBMS market, for that matter), other than my loyalty to Sun employees in general and the MySQL team in particular.
MySQL's Markets and Installed Base
MySQL is the world's most popular open-source relational database, and potentially the most popular relational database of all. It has an enormous influence and impact on the usage and the buying patterns of relational databases (also known as RDBMSs), in particular for Web applications. One might even state that the Internet would not be what it is today, were it not for MySQL. Staffed by a highly talented team of passionate employees, the Swedish company MySQL grew the MySQL business from a small one in 2001 to a massive one in 2008.
In this discussion, the term "MySQL" refers to two things. On the one hand, there is the huge phenomenon MySQL--an estimated 12 million active installations under a free and open-source software license, millions, if not tens of millions, of skilled users and developers, and tens of thousands of corporations who use MySQL one way or the other.
On the other hand, there is the business of MySQL, which is growing rapidly, thus rewarding the owners of the assets (currently Sun Microsystems).
Those two meanings of the term "MySQL" stand in a close mutually beneficial interaction with each other. But most importantly, this interaction is voluntary and cannot be directly controlled by the vendor.
What I mean is that the vast and free installed base of MySQL is using it of their own free choice, unencumbered by the vendor and under no obligation or restraint. That is the nature of open source. And conversely, the MySQL business is supporting the free installed base of MySQL (by improving the product) voluntarily and in the hope of deriving benefit from the installed base.
This is the paradox of an open-source business, and it took me a long time to truly understand how powerful a force it is. It is unlike any traditional business. The key point is that both the users and the vendors of open source are engaged in a powerful free-market dynamic that cannot be contained by any single entity.
It is in everybody's interest that the two sides of MySQL produce benefit for and derive benefit from each other. But neither group can mandate or control the other one. This is a core philosophy of open-source software and more generally of the "architecture of participation" (as defined by Tim O'Reilly). There is a mutually beneficial voluntary relationship, but there is no control by one group over the other. In more colloquial terms: the owners of MySQL cannot force MySQL users to pay up, and the nonpaying users cannot force the business to subsidize them.
Anyone acquiring the MySQL assets will therefore acquire an ability to control the business aspect, i.e., meaning how MySQL is licensed commercially, but only an opportunity (and no free reign) to derive benefit from the free user base.
This explains how the MySQL business can be valued highly in the market ($1 billion, when acquired by Sun in February 2008) while at the same time providing no way of controlling its installed base. This unusual relationship between market share and installed base is at the core of the topic. The market share is small but controllable, to some degree. The installed base is enormous but not controllable. The installed base is, and can be, hugely beneficial to the owner of MySQL, but only to the extent and for as long as this owner of MySQL enjoys the trust of the installed base.
To put it in numbers, it may be useful to see the usage of MySQL, as divided into three categories:… Read more