Why Oracle didn't buy MySQL

Oracle probably didn't understand MySQL well enough to want to buy the open-source start-up, now part of Sun. Like a knife and screwdriver, their products are complementary.

Reading the excellent analysis of Arjen Lentz, founder of MySQL training company Open Query, of what the open-source database leader MySQL is (and isn't) makes me wish that Oracle would have discovered MySQL as a complement, rather than as a competitor, several years ago.

MySQL's is the database software of choice for the Web, period. Oracle's is the database software of choice for the enterprise, period. It's unclear, as Lentz points out, that this means one is better than the other--and why we need to keep talking about competition between them:

MySQL doesn't have to be suited to every possible need, and its not suiting certain needs is not a failure.

A knife and a screwdriver are both useful types of tools, but they are not interchangeable, in terms of purpose. You can cut some things with a screwdriver, and you can try to turn a screw with a knife, and sometimes, such uses even make sense--but it can also get rather awkward, break the tool, cut your hand, and so on. It's not necessarily pretty.

MySQL has a different market from Oracle, and that is why they are not in direct competition. It's not about low end and high end on a single scale; it's quite different in many aspects.

This knife-and-screwdriver metaphor strikes me as spot-on, and it also helps explain why perfectly happy Oracle users admit to using MySQL in droves . They don't want a screwdriver for every database problem. They like to keep a knife on hand.

Should Oracle have acquired MySQL, rather than just a primary engine for it, InnoDB? Much depends on Oracle's ambition to power the Web, rather than just the enterprise (as though "just" the enterprise is a small market).

MySQL may well not be an Oracle killer, much less an Oracle wounder. It's more likely a complement, rather than a replacement. It's also a case of "could have been, should have been," and the question is somewhat immaterial, now that MySQL is firmly entrenched within Sun Microsystems . Even so, I wonder if anyone at Oracle now rues letting MySQL slip away?

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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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