The European Commission (E.C.) need not have got involved with the Oracle-Sun merger and potential future of MySQL, and should just let the “competitive dynamics” of the open source community play out naturally, said an open source expert.
Tim Yeaton, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based BlackDuck Software Inc., said his concern is less about Oracle buying Sun and inheriting MySQL than it is about whether “governing authorities have rich enough insight into the unique dynamics of the open source market to know when to let it play out and when to regulate.”
Yeaton, who has been involved in the open source market since the late 1990s, believes that much of the innovation in the software world is enhanced or enabled by vibrant open source dynamics like new projects, venture investment, and mergers and acquisitions.
Earlier in December, Yeaton sent a letter to the E.C.'s Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, detailing his concerns regarding regulating the potential merger.
A misunderstanding of the competitive dynamics of the open source market, and the resulting attempt by the EC to regulate, said Yeaton, will “create a chilling effect for commercial companies to buy open source companies, of open source companies to combine and create bigger more capable things.”
Last Monday, Oracle released a statement in which it made 10 commitments, for five years following the merger to MySQL users and developers. They include continuing to release MySQL under the General Public License (GPL) and increasing R&D spending.
Yeaton said MySQL will continue to be a vibrant product under Oracle's investment. But should it be left to languish, he believes those competitive dynamics in the open source market would instantly seek to fill the void, ensuring MySQL's continued vibrancy. “If there is a robust project that people have rallied around and benefited from, no single vendor is going to be able to undo that realistically because these dynamics are too strong, too market-driven,” said Yeaton.
And some of those dynamics are already at play, he said. The code-base forks and the project gets reinvigorated with new iterations like Drizzle. Other open source databases make a stronger presence like Ingres. And, companies like Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com build MySQL into cloud services.
On Monday, French enterprise resource planning software vendor Nexedi made a public bid to take over stewardship of MySQL from Oracle for a symbolic one Euro, citing concerns that Oracle should not have ownership of the open source database. Nexedi's ERP software is based on MySQL.
Yeaton said he's surprised there haven't more ideas like that emerge from the open source community illustrating these strong dynamics. “That's the beauty of this,” he said, “there is so much creativity and innovation in technology and in business processes that there's going to be probably one clever idea after another that comes out.”
Jay Lyman, open source analyst with analyst firm The 451 Group, doesn't believe Nexedi's offer is at all viable given it would mean a MySQL Foundation comprising membership from Oracle and those opposed to the merger. “That would require Oracle to give up control of the MySQL code to some extent and I'm not sure it is prepared to do that,” said Lyman.
In general, Oracle has demonstrated a commitment to keeping MySQL going and maintaining it as open source including the variable storage engines commonly used with the database across a range of products, said Lyman. Besides, it's in the company's commercial interest to do so, he added.
Lyman also points out that Oracle is going further in outlining its commitment and plans than Sun did when it bought MySQL.
Eben Moglen, founder and executive director of the New York-based Software Freedom Law Center, acknowledges that some open source developers fear Oracle will have too much control over the code. But Moglen said they should understand that the GPL is designed to protect the freedom of software and that “it's been working for 20 years with fair success.”
In November, Moglen sent a letter to the E.C. explaining that the GPL gives enough protection to developers outside of Oracle to redistribute MySQL.
“Whether Oracle had made the commitments that it made here or not, the GPL would have constrained the outcomes of any Oracle behaviour pretty much predictably,” said Moglen.
Lyman questions why the GPL and its rules are being challenged at this point in time considering that it is well established in business today. “This all comes back to the central idea that to close Oracle, Microsoft or any other organization, entity or individual out of open source is antithetical to the principles of open source,” said Lyman.