Remember when Oracle was the good guy?

Oracle now has the reputation of being a hard-driving proprietary software company, but it was founded under very different principles.

Though our bodies get older, our minds remain relatively young. Sure, we're scarred and matured by experiences, but our bodies age much faster than our minds. It turns out that companies are much the same.

Take Oracle, for example. We sometimes give Oracle grief for being the quintessentially Machiavellian company, with a hard-driving sales culture and bent on nefarious designs to lock in customers, but the company was founded under very different principles.

Oracle made its fortune promoting the SQL standard which, despite its problems, freed the world from mainframe lock-in, as Alfresco CEO John Powell, an early Oracle employee, reminded me recently. (Disclosure: John is my boss.)

Prior to Oracle, if you wanted to write database technologies, your choices were IBM's IMS, Cullinet's IDMS, or other proprietary solutions that were locked to specific mainframe hardware and the application was locked to the data.

Oracle (and IBM) opened up the market with SQL-based relational databases, thereby allowing independence between data and their associated applications. Oracle's message was "freedom of customers from mainframe lock-in." Starting with the VAX, Oracle gave customers freedom to negotiate between different mini-computer hardware suppliers.

Oracle was, in other words, the open-source vendor of its day, delivering customer choice.

Oracle has since become a massive corporation, and attracts all the suspicion that success often breeds. But perhaps its soul (early employees) is still young and concerned with openness, even if its body (the infrastructure) may not be.

It's especially intriguing for me to watch one of Oracle's longest-serving employees, Ken Jacobs (Employee number 18), take on increased responsibilities within Oracle's open source-related businesses. Jacobs has been involved with InnoDB, Oracle's first foray into MySQL, and it's likely that he'll play a big role in managing the company's MySQL business, too.

This may well be the perfect fit for Jacobs: he grew up touting Oracle as a freedom fighter. Now he gets to do it again, at a time when the industry sees Oracle very differently than when Jacobs started at Oracle over two decades ago.

Follow me on Twitter @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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