EU fiddles with MySQL while Sun burns

The European Union is trying to protect customers by holding up Oracle's proposed merger of Sun. In fact, its interference won't help open source and could hurt MySQL.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

Neelie Kroes European Commission

IBM and Hewlett-Packard could not have planned it any better.

The European Union has launched an in-depth investigation into Oracle's acquisition of Sun, potentially delaying the merger by several more months. In doing so, the EU is actually guaranteeing the demise of Sun's hardware business and gifting it to Sun's competitors by misunderstanding the deal's impact on open source, generally, and on MySQL, specifically.

If you haven't been paying attention, the delay on the merger due to U.S. and EU scrutiny has already resulted in two shockingly bad quarters from Sun. Many enterprise customers are already moving to competitors like IBM because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Sun products, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Further delay will only compound the problem.

Unlike the U.S., which approved the deal, the EU's Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes is concerned that Oracle's takeover of Sun will end up diminishing competition:

Systems (like MySQL) based on open-source software are increasingly emerging as viable alternatives to proprietary solutions. The Commission has to ensure that such alternatives would continue to be available.

The Commission doesn't have to. MySQL's open-source license already does. It's open source: even Oracle can't put the open-source genie back in the bottle once it has been released, as MySQL has, under the GNU General Public License.

Consider: some of the folks cheering loudest for the EU to clamp down on the proposed merger, like representatives from Monty Program, have already demonstrated Oracle's (and Sun's) lack of control over MySQL. Monty Program has created a significant fork, or derivative, of the MySQL database, and stands to gain much by the EU's obstructionism.

In delaying the merger, the EU isn't helping MySQL. It's helping its competitors, including Drizzle, OurDelta, MariaDB (Monty Program's fork), Percona, etc.

Competition within and around MySQL is alive and well, regardless of Oracle. After all, as former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos has been saying for years, MySQL has never really competed with Oracle, anyway. MySQL serves (and has helped to create) a very different market: the Web database market.

When asked in April if Oracle's bid for Sun would end up hurting MySQL, Mickos responded: "MySQL works for Web-based applications. Oracle is for older, legacy applications." The vast majority of Oracle's revenue comes from enterprise IT. The vast majority of MySQL's revenue comes from Web companies like Facebook, Google, etc.

MySQL and Oracle don't really compete. They live in two very different markets.

So, if anything, Oracle's acquisition of Sun helps it leverage MySQL into a market--the growing Web database market--that its own technology is ill-equipped to manage. It also gets a lower-cost product with which to bludgeon its real enemy, Microsoft, coupled with a greater footprint in the rising open-source developer community.

Open source is not the enemy in this deal. Microsoft is.

The EU, however, has made itself an enemy to Oracle, Sun, and MySQL by holding up the merger, a situation that will only get worse due to its glacial pace, as CIO.co.uk's editor Martin Veitch suggests. Customers are not the beneficiaries of its intervention: Sun's server competitors like IBM are.

Though the EU purports to be in tune with open source, its meddlesome muddling reveals a surprising ignorance of open source, and shows a complete disregard for MySQL's true market opportunity.

UPDATE @ 6:59 Pacific on 9/4/09: I solicited comment from Gartner vice president and Distinguished Analyst, Donald Feinberg, who had this to say:

The EU does not understand open source. This is clear by using DBMS (MySQL) to extend the deadline. It also is clear that this is an attempt to use MySQL as a cover-up to a political agenda. It is protectionism at its worst.

The EU is entering deep water here, water that it clearly does not adequately understand.

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