EU Objection to Snoracle Teaches Three Open Source Lessons

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Oracle was supposed to be presenting information to the European Union on Wednesday concerning its acquisition of Sun. But the meeting has been delayed until Dec. 4. Moving the meeting date also moves the end date of the decision to the end of January. One conspiracy blog post says the meeting and the eventual ruling by the EU have been delayed to allow Oracle more time to "swallow Sun." Another implies that it means Oracle is on the ropes. My guess: It was delayed because tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Sorry, tin foil hat wearers, but it's that simple.


But the breather provides time to draw three interesting lessons on the open source connection to the Oracle/Sun vs. EU battle, and to more broadly consider the differences among open source terms and conditions, the open source culture, and the open source software market. As reported by Bloomberg working from a leaked EU document (see my IT Investment Research blog post on the numbers), the EU's problem with the acquisition centers around Sun's "ownership" of the open source-licensed MySQL database. In a Nov. 19 blog post on InfoWorld, Bill Snyder looked into the open source angle in the EU Competition Commission's statement of objections against Oracle and found that most open source movement participants do not really care. I agree. The open source angle in the EU's statement is a sideshow perpetrated by Florian Mueller, the self-proclaimed leading opponent of the Sun/Oracle acquisition. His strategy was to try to get the EU open source blogoblatherers in a lather against Oracle and in his camp. As Snyder points out, he has failed in that strategy.


Mueller's meme goes something like this variation of a recent quote:

There has been fierce competition between Oracle's flagship product and MySQL on Linux...

But, according to Sun itself in early 2009, Microsoft Windows - not Linux - is the most popular MySQL development and production system platform.


Lesson one: Like most open source software, MySQL's terms and conditions, reflected in open source licenses, do not dictate where it can run and most of it - or at least most of MySQL according to Sun - runs on Windows, not Linux. There are dozens of open source licenses, some of which cater to the open source culture (see next paragraph), but most of which just allow companies such as MySQL before it was acquired by Sun to glom onto the open source buzzword for marketing purposes.


Second, consider the open source culture, which is all about the source code being openly available for improvement and iteration. As Oracle pointed out in its initial rebuttal, MySQL has already been forked by Maria, an EU-based startup involving the founder of MySQL, for whom the self-proclaimed leading opponent mentioned above, Florian Mueller, works as a consultant. Putting the fix in for Maria is what the Eurocrats are really trying to do; this has nothing to do with MySQL. Maria is 30 years behind Oracle in research and development and has no hope of catching up without the EU's intervention. (Not that it matters to market dynamics, in my opinion, but if the EU thinks it matters, MySQL has the best chance of catching up to Oracle RDBMS functionality if it becomes sponsored by the leading database software company. The competition within Oracle R&D labs is much more Darwinian than any open source community can bring to the code.)


As for the third lesson, using this delay to better understand the open source software market -- that's a trick lesson. There is no open source software market. As explained above, open source is mostly just multiple sets of terms and conditions, some choices among many for selling enterprise software. To a lesser extent it is a culture, a development model. Years of statistical research tell me that few of you in IT care about open source software terms and conditions or how they were developed. Instead, functionality rules.


And if there are no market dynamics centered around open source terms and conditions -- if they or the culture are not influential in your decision- making -- then there is no market by definition.