Microsoft's embrace of MySQL could kill it

Microsoft is now offering support for MySQL, which should give pause to every open-source company that expects to make money through support subscriptions.

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

For those who have fret about Microsoft fighting against open source, I have news for you: Microsoft's impact on open source may be worse as a friend than as an enemy.

Now with MySQL inside! Yes, we can. Microsoft

Over the past few years, Microsoft has steadily warmed to open source, to the point that it now hosts its own open-source code repository and has seen its Microsoft Public License used more often than venerable licenses like the Mozilla Public License or the Eclipse Public License, according to new data released by Black Duck Software.

The open-source world should be worried.

After all, as IBM's Savio Rodrigues points out, an open-source-friendly Microsoft no longer has qualms about embedding open-source software like MySQL into its products. In particular, Microsoft supports MySQL as part of its Azure cloud service...without paying Sun a dime for the privilege.

It's a completely legitimate way to offer open-source value to Microsoft customers, and is very similar to what Amazon is doing with MySQL.

However, as Rodrigues notes, it's not necessarily good for MySQL, or other open-source projects that could be used this same way:

The larger point is if Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Google, Cisco, EMC/VMware, or Oracle/Sun offer a simple and supported cloud service for running MySQL, Tomcat, JBoss, Mule, or Apache HTTP instances, what reason do customers have to acquire "enterprise subscriptions" from the vendors developing these open source projects? Until now, the value of an open source "enterprise subscription" has largely been access to support and access to administration and management tooling. In the case of MySQL, the former is provided by Amazon RDS and Azure SQL as part of the per-hour service. Again in the case of MySQL, the latter is rendered unnecessary or replicated through Amazon RDS and Azure SQL tools.

Consider it a super-friendly, and super-dangerous, bear hug.

For those who think that this affects commercial open source and not community-led open source, think again. Money and open source don't grow on trees.

The explosion of open-source development has directly correlated to the explosion of cash investments into open-source projects, starting with IBM's $1 billion commitment to Linux. MySQL, the database, would be a pale shade of what it is today without MySQL AB, the company that has funded the overwhelming majority of its development.

So, is this cause to castigate Microsoft? No. After all, it's really no different from what Amazon, Google, Apple, and others do with open source.

Rather, Microsoft's move should serve as a reminder to open-source companies that they need to upgrade their business models or risk being rendered irrelevant by the cloud and all that it enables vendors to do with open-source software.

After all, the protections that the GNU General Public License (GPL) and other open-source licenses offer in the traditional software world are essentially meaningless in the networked world, where software is used to create services, but isn't actually distributed.

This is as true for Red Hat as it is for open-source start-ups like Openbravo and Talend. Imagine if Amazon decides to start offering JBoss as a cloud service. Or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for that matter (minus the trademarks).

It could happen. Actually, I'll go one step further: it will happen. It's just a matter of when.

This is why companies like IBM, Google, and increasingly Microsoft strategically invest in open source, but don't try to directly monetize open source. It's also why the "open-source companies" need to figure out a Plan B before Plan A gets taken from them.