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Marten Mickos to leave Sun in reorg

The longtime chief executive of MySQL confirms that he is leaving Sun Microsystems. The company's open-source rebirth was just dealt a massive blow.

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
2 min read

Marten Mickos, former MySQL chief executive and current senior vice president of Sun Microsystems' database group, is transitioning out of the company in a planned reorganization.

Marten Mickos Sun Microsystems

I reached Mickos this morning for confirmation: he is definitely leaving. This move is not prompted by weakness in MySQL's business, which just closed an exceptional quarter, as he told me by phone.

"There is nothing in the MySQL business that is prompting me to leave," Mickos said. "Business is great. We just closed a multimillion-dollar deal recently that confirms much of the momentum we've made. We just closed our best quarter ever."

But Mickos grew disaffected with the larger bureaucracy that Sun brought to MySQL's business, a factor hinted at in a staff e-mail he sent out earlier this week:

I have made a decision to resign from Sun Microsystems. It's a personal decision that I made without anyone influencing me one way or the other (except perhaps my wife).

My personality is such that I love the challenge of an unproven value proposition, and I love being the top policymaker, building new things. I feel that together, we have accomplished the task set by the owners in 2001, and I am now stepping aside to let the strong managers of the group take over and continue the ambitious business ramp-up.

What Mickos doesn't say in the staff letter, but which I sensed in my conversation with him, is frustration at Sun's bureaucracy. As one of the most foundational personalities in open-source business, Mickos should have been given free rein to change Sun's fortunes. I don't think that he was given that freedom, based on other conversations I've had with Sun executives, and this clearly led to his desire to leave Sun.

Letting Mickos go is one of the worst decisions Sun has made. It is likely to lead to an exodus among MySQL's deep talent pool. Mickos was the backbone of MySQL's rising revenues, as an open-source pragmatist and visionary. He was the face of MySQL, but also of the rising open-source industry.

Mickos' departure comes on the heels of the resignation of MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius, but the difference here is that Widenius has been somewhat disconnected from MySQL decision making for some time; Mickos has been at the heart of it.

Sun will feel the loss of Mickos. Its open-source rebirth was just given a massive blow.