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MySQL and a tale of two biases

Two self-interested parties in the Oracle/MySQL debacle diverge on its antitrust implications...significantly.

Oracle's proposed acquisition of Sun-MySQL has turned into a political circus, with both sides digging in their heels in preparation for a fight. However, the most interesting commentary on the deal may actually be coming from two highly interested parties with two very different perspectives on the takeover: MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius and IBM.

What's interesting in their positions is that only one of the parties pretends to be neutral. Surprisingly, the overtly biased party, IBM, comes to a very different conclusion than Widenius.

It has everything to do with money.

As Pamela Jones at Groklaw acutely analyzes, Widenius and his appointed lobbyist, Florian Mueller, are compromised by financial incentives to bar Oracle from owning MySQL. Jones writes:

They have big plans for a business around MySQL, and they want to make some money from it. MariaDB is their fork of MySQL...

So, what stands in their way? In their mind, the GPL [GNU General Public License]. They scorn the idea of a community project of GPL'd code and view Linux's commercial success, despite it being GPL code, as an aberration. What did they tell the EU Commission about licenses, then, and how to make money from FOSS? That the two most successful open-source business models are dual licensing, like MySQL, or open core, as in EnterpriseDB, the core of the code being open source, but with proprietary modules, and that is what they want to turn MySQL into.

Even if you don't buy Jones' contention that Widenius and Mueller want to make MySQL "proprietary" by licensing it under the Apache Software License, her excerpting of key commentary within their own brief (PDF) for the EU is sobering...and damning.

The evidence is particularly troubling when considered against IBM's response to the proposed takeover of MySQL. IBM, next to Microsoft, is Oracle's biggest competitor in the database market, and so presumably would have a big incentive to keep the popular MySQL database out of Oracle's hands.

But that's not what is happening.

In fact, IBM's Steve Mills has clearly stated that the acquisition would create no antitrust issues.


Surely, if someone had a financial incentive to block the acquisition, it would be IBM. But IBM has its long-term credibility on the line, and it knows that specious arguments made for short-term gain have long-term negative consequences.

Oracle doesn't compete with MySQL. Oracle has said this. MySQL has said this (well before and after the proposed acquisition). And now IBM is saying it.

Widenius and Mueller, who have perhaps done more than any others to slow the Oracle-Sun deal, costing Sun hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales in the process, are not saying it. But then, if Jones' analysis is right, then they have a serious conflict of interest that would prevent them from saying it.

MySQL is an open-source database, licensed under the GPL, which ensures that its code is open and available to anyone. The license works, as its co-author, Eben Moglen, recently articulated.

That is, it works to preserve software freedom. It says nothing about Widenius' freedom to make money from MySQL, nor should it. That's a business model question for him to overcome, not a political question for him to lobby.