Learning Open Source Lessons in the EU/Oracle Fight by Example

Dennis Byron

Jean-Jacques (JJ) Dubray is a service-oriented architecture (SOA) guru and editor at InfoQ. I read him as a a technologist who understands the market dynamic that SOA is an enabler of business process management (BPM), and that the two terms are not synonymous or co-dependent. Therefore I read his InfoQ articles and his blog for background on standards and the SOA/BPM relationship respectively.


So I was happy to see that he read my recent blog post, "New York Times Misses European Union (EU)-Oracle-Sun Story." But I respectively disagree with the comments he left there about open source in the EU. He says:

" it is also important to note that many of the European Governments and municipalities are heavy users of (open source software) OSS for obvious cost/productivity reason. The EU is simply defending its interest and making sure they are not handing billions of dollars to Oracle or any other, carelessly.

His comment is actually more relevant to my Nov. 25 blog post, "EU Objection to Snoracle Teaches Three Open Source Lessons." In fact, Dubray's comments demonstrate by example some of the enterprise-software-market-dynamics lessons about open source that I think can be learned from the EU statement of objections against Oracle's acquisition of Sun.


First, sorry JJ, but it is not at all "obvious" that open source software is less costly or more productive than software licensed using some other terms and conditions. There is no research that points one way or the other on the subject, nor would I expect there would be any. The conventional-wisdom theory, which I have never tested, is that any lower startup cost associated with open source software trades off against higher developer and end-user personnel and training costs as use scales.


An important finding that I have confirmed in my own research is that open source licensed software functionality that involves minimal developer and end-user involvement and little supplier maintenance effort or subscription-maintenance-service value-add (e.g., Apache Web server software, JBoss application server) is rapidly adopted by other software suppliers under open source terms and conditions. Then they make it available to their users under the same conditions. But that trend of treating such "it-don't-break" functionality as a commodity predates the beginning of the modern open source terms and conditions era.


Second, I have never seen any research that says EU government entities are "heavy users" of software licensed under open source vs. non-open-source terms and conditions. Or heavier or lighter users of such terms and conditions than governments in other parts of the world, or in other industries. I would not expect to find any evidence of that since my research says consistently that IT staffs and end users worldwide choose software based on functionality, not license terms and conditions.


In fact, when it comes to the EU embrace of the open concept in general, just the opposite is happening. The European blogoblatherers have been up in arms recently about the EU allegedly changing its stance to a more neutral position on the subject of open source and standards relative to interoperability. (Sure,as I've written before, there are people who will wear only Italian shoes or drink French wine, and that's probably more true in Italy and France than elsewhere.)


Third, it's open source. Any EU government or anyone else that does not want to spend money with Oracle for database software can use PostgreSQL, BerkleyDB (an open source project that has grown under Oracle sponsorship for years), or a dozen other code sets, including even MySQL, without giving a euro to anyone. Of course, depending on function, they will need highly specialized IT development and administrative staffs to run it and keep it running. That's the conventional-wisdom tradeoff described above.


As for spending "billions of dollars" with Oracle, here JJ is clearly exaggerating, and I think it is just for effect. Research shows that Oracle only makes a few billion in all of Europe, Africa and western Asia, and only a part of that is from database sales. A small percentage of that is with governments and only a smaller percentage is with EU governments. Most of the money Oracle makes in Europe from all sources is plowed back into European employment and taxes.


So what is the "interest" that JJ says the EU is "simply defending"? Its idea is to tilt the EU enterprise-software market in favor of homeboys like the MariaDB project, a fork of MySQL. Such government intervention in the IT market is bad for IT folks.


Given the Obama administration and bi-partisan U.S. Senate intervention in the Sun/Oracle case already, it is just a matter of time before companies such as Dassault (no longer under IBM's umbrella), Sage, SAP and Software Ag are discriminated against in the United States the way Microsoft and now Oracle are being discriminated against in the EU. I would hate to see that happen because I believe software has no nationality.


JJ, stick to the technology stuff; you're good at it. Stay away from EU politics.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 3, 2009 9:28 AM Kadri Mohammed Azharuddin Kadri Mohammed Azharuddin  says:





Dec 3, 2009 12:03 PM Jean-Jacques Dubray Jean-Jacques Dubray  says:


thanks for your response. We can certainly argue about the billions that could potentially be charged or the cost effectiveness of F/OSS. I do however think that you are unaware of how prevalent is F/OSS in Europe. I would certainly start here: http://www.osor.eu/

I was amazed myself at how aggressive state government agencies and municipalities are.

That being said, I do not support the handling of this matter by the EU. I think any company, including Oracle, Microsoft and what not, deserve a fair, consistent and swift handling of their requests.


Dec 3, 2009 7:18 PM Paul Beach Paul Beach  says:

You mention the following open source database products "database software can use PostgreSQL, BerkleyDB". You could even mention Firebird in the same sentence, and like PostgreSQL it is not dual licensed, and also does not use GPL.

Dec 4, 2009 4:18 PM Dennis Byron Dennis Byron  says: in response to vik1066

Thanks for the comment. 

Please note that when you download open source software, you are licensing it, just as when you download any software.  Again, a key lesson: open source simply represents a different set of terms and conditions but there are still terms and conditions.


Dec 4, 2009 8:39 PM vik1066 vik1066  says:

Open source softwares are more downloaded then licensed. so it is also better for new companies as well. open source database products are also helps a lot. thanks for all the availability.


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