Eye on Oracle

Oct 21 2009   3:00PM GMT

Pressure builds for Oracle to sell MySQL

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

It seems like some people just don’t want Oracle to own MySQL.

Right on the heels of Oracle chairman Larry Ellison’s pledge to aggressively support Sun’s MySQL database at OpenWorld last week, Michael “Monty” Widenius, MySQL’s creator says Oracle should sell the open source database to a third party thereby resolving the antitrust concerns of the European Union (EU).

The EU’s objections are focused on Oracle, the leader in proprietary databases, gaining possession of MySQL, the leading open source database, and the competitive ramifications that sort of dominance will have on European markets.

In his blog Widenius wrote that MySQL needs a different home other than Oracle “where there would be no conflicts of interest concerning how, or if, MySQL should be developed further.”

Both Ellison and Sun co-founder Scott McNealy in their OpenWorld keynotes pointed to examples of Oracle’s track record when it comes to owning open source products, most notably the Sleepycat database. McNealy said he believes Ellison will carry through on his promise to bring MySQL greater success adding that the product represents no threat to Oracle’s flagship database and that it is a natural competitor to and an offering from a common enemy – Microsoft.

“MySQL is the leading open source, low-end database. Larry says it will not compete with Oracle or DB2 but with Microsoft so he has every reason to want it to succeed,” McNealy said.

Even Widenius’ former partner and co-founder of MySQL, Marten Mickos has contacted Nellie Kroes, the EU’s Competition Commissioner, advising her to approve the acquisition in the face of Sun’s dwindling market share and financial fortunes.

Ellison last month said Sun is losing some $100 million a month, and if the EU’s investigation goes all the way to the January 19 deadline, that could mean another $300 million in losses, along with God knows how many more points of lost market share to IBM and HP in the server hardware business. As I have said before, I don’t understand why the EU doesn’t understand there is little danger to limiting user choice or in Oracle trying to control pricing by approving the deal. I mean, there are no pricing issues — MySQL is free.

Just late yesterday Sun said it planned to cut 3,000 jobs over the next year, although some of those jobs could be related to redundancies with Oracle personnel as the company readies itself for the expected merger. Still, some of those layoffs have to be related to Sun’s poor performance since early this year.

The rub here is finding a “suitable” third party to take over ownership of MySQL. It certainly can’t be sold to IBM, SAP, Hewlett-Packard or any other major competitor of either Oracle or Sun without the strong objections of Mr. Ellison and certain government agencies.

Microsoft? They should be interested in the idea, since Oracle could well use MySQL to compete against SQL Server in the lower end markets. They could take a weapon out of Larry’s hands. But I doubt they are ready for such an aggressive move into the open source world.

Leading open source companies Red Hat and Novell would give serious consideration to buying it, but will they ever get the chance? Highly unlikely, but it’s an outside possibility.

Widenius, by the way, left MySQL a while ago to form his own company, Monty Program AB which is working on a branch of MySQL called MariaDB. I assume he doesn’t have any interest in marshaling an effort to take his old product back.

No, (and I can barely believe I am saying this) the best option here for everyone concerned is that the EU show some faith and trust that Oracle will do what it says it will do. If Oracle doesn’t follow through and abuses its monopoly position in the database market, Oracle will be the biggest loser because customers and their dollars will migrate to a more trustworthy competitor.

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