MySQL Plays in the Sun

MySQL, much beloved among the Open Source community, has recently been acquired by Sun Microsystems for the small pittance of (insert picture of Dr. Evil here) one billion dollars in cash and stock options. How this will affect end users, and open source in general, is still up in the air, but understanding a little bit about the history of open source and the two businesses should help to give us a clearer picture of what is really at stake.

History of Open Source

Created by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond in 1997, the Open Source Definition lists ten conditions that must be met for a license to be considered as open source:

  1. Freely Distributed: The software can either be sold or given away for free.

  2. Source Code: The source code must be included with the program or obtained for free.

  3. Derived Works: Modifications must be allowed to be redistributed.

  4. Integrity of the Author’s Source Code: Licenses can require that modifications be redistributed as patches.

  5. No discrimination against persons or groups.

  6. No discrimination against fields of endeavor.

  7. Distribution of license: Rights that are attached to the program have to apply to everyone the program is redistributed to without the parties needing an additional license.

  8. License must not be specific to a product.

  9. License must not restrict other software.

  10. License must be technology neutral.

In short, open source means that the programmer not only gets the source code, but has the right to use it as they see fit. If this is not true, then the license is deemed shared source.

Today the term “open source” can be applied to many fields, including journalism, politics, and ecology.

{mospagebreak title=Sun Microsystems}

Sun Microsystems was founded in 1982 by a group of Stanford graduate students, most notably Andy Bechtolsheim, who created the original 68000 Unix system from spare parts, chewing gum, and nerd sweat.

The company’s name comes from the initials of the Stanford University Network project and was initially in the business of building server-centric hardware. Since then it has made many acquisitions and moved into the software and operating system business as well, and of course created the Java Platform in the early 1990s.

Sun has a long history of involvement with Open Source, and according to a report prepared for the European Union by UNU-Merit (an institute that provides insight into the socio-political and economical factors that guide technology changes), Sun is the largest corporate contributor to open source in the world, exceeding the total of the next five largest contributors. In addition to its software contributions, the company has also offered up its operating system, Solaris and created the OpenSolaris community.

Sun set up a specific open source office in mid-2005, formalizing a direction they’d already been taking. At the time, Simon Phipps told CNet that the company was heading toward a future "where all its software is going to based on open source." This is not to say the company hasn’t faced some challenges when it comes to open source software. When it worked on making Java open source in 2006, many were skeptical, and with good reason. An InfoWorld article at the time quoted a former Sun employee as saying the move flew in the face of "an old guard of middle managers who have opposed open sourcing Java." Understandably, this has led to a mixed reputation in the open source community, as evidenced by this open letter to Sun from the Apache Software Foundation.

{mospagebreak title=MySQL AB}

MySQL AB was founded in 1995 by Michael Widenius, David Axmark, and Allan Larsson. The company created the relational database management system MySQL. It employs roughly 400 people from twenty-five countries, seventy percent of whom work from home. Since being founded, the company reports over 5 million MySQL installations and 10 million overall product downloads (as of 2004).

Even though MySQL is an open source database, MySQL earns revenue by offering a dual license: one open source, the other more traditional, such as when companies want the code to be included in a project they created that they do not wish to offer as open source. They also earn money by offering support, consultation, training, certification, and subscriptions to their MySQL Enterprise.

MySQL is arguably the world’s most popular open source database. It is "a genuine nuisance to Oracle," according to John Dvorak. What can we expect to happen to it now that it’s in Sun’s clutches?

{mospagebreak title=Affects of the Merger}

The acquisition of MySQL AB puts Sun directly in the center of the Open Source business community, making it an alternate solution to the three big proprietary monsters: IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft, and delivering a nice blow to Red Hat in the mean time. It also positions Sun as a top dog in the acquisition of other open-source companies, depending of course upon how well Sun does with the absorption of MySQL.

Another good effect of the merger is all of the money being thrown into open-source, which can only be good for the community. Sun should benefit well from the hard-working MySQL team, and we will hopefully see some new open-source ventures on the horizon. The acquisition also adds another notch of legitimacy to open source as a whole, proving that in addition to innovative, collective coding, open source can also lead to solid financials as well. For a company earning a revenue of about $50 million dollars a year, a $1 billion dollar buy-out is no laughing matter.

Finally, Sun officially joins the ranks as one of the three big open-source vendors, which include Red Hat (who recently acquired Jboss) and Yahoo. Where this places Oracle, who has close ties to Sun and who tried to acquire MySQL themselves in 2006, is unknown. The acquisition certainly deals a blow to Oracle, who acquired two smaller open-source database companies, Sleepycat and InnoDB back in 2005.

In addition, Sun has a sizeable investment in PostgreSQL, and the effects on that are also up in the air.

The acquisition by Sun is the largest for an open-source company to date. It follows on the heels of a busy few years of open-source buying. In 2006 Red Hat acquired JBoss for a nice chunk of change ($400 million), also spoiling the plans of Oracle who were considering purchasing the company themselves. In 2007 we saw the purchase of Zimbra by Yahoo for $350 million, and the XenSource purchase by Citrix Systems for $500 million dollars.

If the Sun/MySQL deal is any indication, and the heads of Sun assure us it is, this is just the beginning of a potential buying spree. It will be interesting to see what other companies Sun acquires in the upcoming years, and to see if they can actually position themselves to be a threat to the Axis of Propriety. Only time will tell…


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