Now an Oracle product, what happens to MySQL?

Attendees at the open source database's annual developers' conference in Santa Clara this morning are waking up to the incredible news that their own product, whose value to Sun Microsystems was to have been lauded by none other than Sun co-founder Andreas von Bechtolsheim in a keynote address scheduled for Thursday, is now owned by Oracle Systems.

The initial value of MySQL to Oracle -- up until this morning, its biggest competitor -- was obvious by its absence from this morning's joint press conference featuring Sun and Oracle executives. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz mentioned MySQL along with OpenOffice as part of what he now calls the world's largest supplier for open source software. Until Oracle's SEC filings are made public, we won't know whether MySQL even factored into its valuation of Sun.

LinuxQuestions.org editor Jeremy had, well, Linux questions this morning after the news was announced: "With much of Sun's revenue coming from hardware, will [Oracle] spin that division off or use it to focus more on a complete Oracle stack, that includes everything from hardware to database?" Jeremy wrote. "Moving to the individual parts of that stack, will Oracle continue with the SPARC CPU line or be interested in the more commodity x86 lines? At the OS level, will Oracle continue to focus on Linux and their Unbreakable implementation or will they attempt to keep Solaris alive? Oracle has been contributing to Linux in a significant way recently, and it would be a huge loss for that to go away."

Independent analyst and Betanews contributor Carmi Levy believes the deal could enable some intriguing opportunities for Oracle, which up to now has had more difficulty breaking into the lower end of the database market. There, MySQL rules among open source users, and Microsoft SQL Server has had a stronghold among the commercial set.

"This thinking extends into the lower end of the market as well, given how the Sun acquisition gives Oracle access to MySQL," Levy told Betanews. "While no one could ever rightfully claim that MySQL threatens Oracle's higher-end database offerings, its addition to the portfolio gives Oracle additional leverage in a market with significant growth potential. The MySQL installed base of approximately 11 million gives Oracle sales teams fertile opportunity to have conversations they haven't previously had."

But MySQL's support base is comprised in large part by independent developers, and that's by design. Already, those independent developers are waking up to a new world, including software engineer Ryan Thiessen. An 11-year MySQL veteran, Thiessen is scheduled to speak at the MySQL Conference this week; and in a blog post this morning entitled simply, "Stunned," he reveals his bewilderment:

"Last time this year I was cautiously optimistic about Sun's purchase of MySQL. But not this year -- it's fear and disappointment over what this means for MySQL," Thiessen wrote. "When I read this as a rumor a few weeks ago I thought it was a joke of an idea. Why would a high margin software company want to buy a declining hardware business, even if that hardware is great? As for their software, I cannot imagine that Oracle is interested in Java, MySQL, etc as revenue generating products, it would just be a tiny blip for them."
Surprisingly, Java and Solaris were mentioned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison as the key motivating factors, not the SPARC business -- in fact, it was SPARC that failed to generate a blip. MySQL got at least that much -- this for a business that was worth at least a billion to Sun just 15 months ago.

MySQL's founders have remained on the record as fiercely against the use of software patents, as detrimental to the spirit and ethics of open source. Oracle is not diametrically opposed to that line of thinking, having made statements in principle throughout this decade opposing the creation of patent portfolios for predatory purposes.

Oracle's 2000 statement on the issue, which is essentially unchanged, reads, "Patent law provides to inventors an exclusive right to new technology in return for publication of the technology. This is not appropriate for industries such as software development in which innovations occur rapidly, can be made without a substantial capital investment, and tend to be creative combinations of previously-known techniques."

But Oracle does support the use of patents for defensive purposes, particularly when a company is attacked by a company with a big portfolio.
That fact alone does not mean Oracle can't, or hasn't, used its software assets very aggressively. In October 2005, the company acquired its first widely used open source database component: Innobase, whose InnoDB contained enterprise-class features that were actually rolled into MySQL 5.0. By acquiring InnoDB, Oracle ended up owning a part of MySQL anyway, in a move that InfoWorld's Neil McAlister astutely reasoned may be to keep the lower-class database snugly in the lower class, while siphoning customers into Oracle's upper class.

"That's why when Oracle snapped up Innobase in early October it was easy to interpret the move as a major offensive on Oracle's part," McAlister wrote then. "By taking control of one of MySQL's vital internal organs, Oracle gains the power to crush the upstart at a whim, simply by closing its grip around Innobase. But, seriously, why would Oracle do that?"

Four years later, we have a closer glimpse of an answer to McAlister's question: By taking control of the geography of enterprise databases over a larger area, Oracle maintains MySQL safely within its own continent, either locked away or funneling new customers across the channel. Maybe no one could ever rightly claim that MySQL was a genuine threat, but today, Oracle's move ensures that it never can be. And that's the new world that developers in Santa Clara are waking up to.

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