Open Source in Question – Oracle Buys MySQL (Sun)

I like free, open-source software as much as the next guy (actually, much more than the next guy, since that guy probably doesn’t know what open-source means), but when an open-source project as large as MySQL changes corporate hands twice in not much more than a year, it brings no confidence to the businesses open-source wants to court as paying customers.

Upon news of the Oracle acquisition, some key remaining personnel at MySQL started jumping ship for greener pastures (or at least for the lifeboats). MySQL founder Mr. Widenius wrote a blog post regarding his thoughts on the Oracle acquisition and his fear that with key employees leaving the project, support and development could be put back years. That’s not something you want to hear as, say, a business holding a multi-year contract for MySQL service.

Now you may say, hey, but proprietary shops get bought out by other companies all the time! What’s to say things don’t go to hell in a hand basket even if you’re paying a company money for a closed system? And furthermore, doesn’t the open-sourciness of the project actually help when support runs dry?

I think the answer to this can be found in the analysis of organization mentality. Open source and closed source shops have very different mindsets when it comes to ‘ownership’. Money-grubbing companies bought out by other money-grubbing companies probably don’t have to change their mindsets as much as when an open source project is acquired by a commercial software business. There’s a pall cast over them. And for Oracle especially, there’s a certain stigma associated with Ellison and friends. I’m sure that’s why, unlike with the Sun acquisition, key members are fleeing the nest even before things finalize with Oracle. At least Sun was making strides towards open source with Java. Oracle, well, there are accounts that while acquisitions by Oracle are often associated with lots of money, it goes hand in hand with crushing moral.

In a capitalist market, it’s eat or be eaten. Unfortunately, due to the nature of most open source outfits, they’re on the snack end of most business transactions. And while I am all for open source projects, recent developments with MySQL clearly paint a less rosy picture for open source aspirations in enterprise. Would it be possible for Oracle to spin out MySQL as a separate entity? It certainly doesn’t match up well with Oracle’s business aspirations.

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