Marten Mickos on the "un-value" of compromise

In one of the most brilliant interviews in some time, Marten Mickos challenges the traditional rules of software businesses and suggests a new way.

I love Marten Mickos, and it is quotations like this in a Computerworld interview that reinforce my respect for him. Asked whether MySQL would ever go partially proprietary in order to get a higher download-to-sale conversion rate, Marten replied:

We've had that debate many times. I think we might win a few new customers, but we would lose 2 million users. We're not ready for that kind of compromise. We also look at other companies who have built closed-source products on top of open-source ones. They don't seem successful.

I think we are well protected against predatory behavior by our competitors. When you download MySQL, it's just GPL code. But the code is owned by us. We have the copyright, we determine what goes into it, we put in the bug fixes. There's nobody else with that core skill.

Secondly, an important part of our paid subscription can't be copied. Our technical support is not copyable by others. Our monitoring services are not copyable.

When people ask if Oracle will start supporting MySQL, I say I would welcome it. I actually told them once, "Why don't you launch Unbreakable MySQL? You can announce it at our user conference, you can buy a platinum sponsorship, I'll mention you in my keynote." Because I would love to compete with Oracle on our own turf. I would get an endorsement free of charge, and I would get a competitive situation that I easily could win.

When you talk with someone like Marten who so clearly understands the rules of 21st Century software businesses, it's a breath of fresh air. You don't have to wade through Sun Tzu wannabe comments about killing competitors by locking them out. You invite them in...and watch them languish trying to compete on your turf. Beautiful. A completely different ethos with Wall Street-friendly results.

I wouldn't want to compete against Marten. I doubt MySQL, Microsoft, and IBM do, either.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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