MySQL AB: You made your bed now lie in it with Oracle.

It is very frustrating to watch Oracle’s acquisition of SUN make its way through regulatory approval as a small band of MySQL users are attempting to use the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” principal to disrupt the process.  This has led to over 14,000 MySQL users signing a petition to the EU opposing Oracle’s acquisition of SUN.

The ring leader of this effort is none other than the founder and creator of MySQL, Michael “Monty” Widenius.  Monty, and others, are deathly afraid that Oracle will effectively do one or more of the following; freeze development/bug fixes, change the current MySQL licensing, attempt to migrate MySQL customers to Oracle’s proprietary database, or ignore the community wishes and limit developers ability to improve MySQL’s capabilities that would lead to more direct competition with Oracle’s proprietary database.

As with any acquisition, the employees or in this case the community have legitimate reasons for concern.  Oracle is a development/engineering/marketing/sales machine that dominates the database industry.  Additionally, until Oracle closes this acquisition they have and will remain relatively quiet or ambiguous about SUN‘s (MySQL) future. 

Some users point to Oracle’s acquisition of Innobase as the primary reason for concern of MySQL’s future.   However, this acquisition took place in 2005 and was Oracle’s “warning shot” to MySQL.  Why?  Innobase was the creator of InnoDB that provides the underlying code for the InnoDB storage engine in MySQL.  In 2005, Oracle and many ISVs were unsure of the competitive threats derived from open source software products such as MySQL.  Leave it to Larry Ellison to find a way to defend his turf while sending a definitive message to the open source community.  Today, ISVs like Oracle have come-to-terms with open source software and strive to be active in both the proprietary and open source domains.

In the end, it’s hard to feel sorry for Monty and the other Executives of MySQL AB.  Lost in all these discussions and protests is the fact that MySQL AB sold out to SUN for a cool $1 Billion. MySQL had a choice; sell out or continue as an independent company.   MySQL AB could have raised capital, purchased Innobase, and continued building a world-class open source database.  Instead, altruistic intentions gave way to dollar bills.

The saga of MySQL serves as a reminder to all Open Source Software Projects and Communities that there is no free lunch; ultimately the software code and rights are owned by an individual or an entity.  The decisions made by these individuals or entities effect community members, contributors, and users on many levels; emotionally, financially, etc.  Today, I worry about many Open Source Projects that reside within SUN and other groups. 

MySQL AB made their bed, now lie in it with Oracle.

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Open Source: A New Model

Perhaps this will date me, but do you remember when OSS referred to Operations Support Systems?  Today, the new OSS stands for Open Source Software.  In fact, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) maintains the Open Source Definition (OSD) and approves licenses as OSD conformant.  There are no less than 70 OSD conformant licenses including the much publicized GNU Public License (GPL), Mozilla Public License (MPL) and the infamous Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

 

What does OSS mean to you?  Does it invoke images of Linux?  Do you equate OSS with free?  How about $1 Billion?  The price that Sun paid for MySQL.  Can you imagine a world without Ubuntu or Red Hat? 

 

Today I was engaged in an invigorating discussion regarding the validity of OSS as a business model.  As an avid supporter of OSS, I am actively involved in the community and utilize Ubuntu, Red Hat, Open Office, and everything in between in both my professional and personal life; I am a staunch supporter of the OSS business model.  My advisory is skeptical of OSS, a reluctant supporter of Microsoft, and believes the OSS business model will never generate revenue.  He points to the fact that outside of “eyeballs” and advertising dollars, no open source model generates any real revenue.

 

On the surface, I understand his points completely.  However, there is general confusion between OSS and free websites like Facebook, MySpace, and others.  Also, do you consider Novell or Red Hat OSS vendors or OSS supporters?  On one hand they are both generating revenue, on the other hand they are the dot coms that support the dot orgs.  Did Citrix and Sun waste $500 million and $1 billion respectively purchasing OSS vendors?  

 

I believe that there is a revenue model for OSS that will propel an OSS vendor into the hallowed territory of a $1 billion software company.  However, the new model must be radically different than today’s models and requires a bit of faith that if “you build it the revenue will come.”  For today’s start-ups, this will mean you need a VC that is patient, visionary, and willing to stay the course.

 

Of course there will be components of today’s licensing including dual-licensing, source code, and derived works but I have different ideas about how to collect, distribute, and generate revenue.  My ideas center on the power and will of the community, the users, and the strength in numbers. 

 

For now I’ll keep my model in a shroud of secrecy as someday I will test my theories.   In the end, the strongest validation will come from creating the next strong, independent, revenue generating, and cash flow positive OSS sensation.  Stay tuned!

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