In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Larry Ellison and Oracle’s apparent lack of respect for the GPL. The FOSS community should find this especially disturbing due to the boatload of open source projects now controlled by Oracle after its acquisition of Sun. Not the least of these is MySQL, the workhorse database that practically runs the Internet, which is available under the GPL and various proprietary licenses. After Oracle unceremoniously dropped support for OpenSolaris, the open source version of Sun’s (now Oracle’s) UNIX OS, we can’t help but wonder if the GPL’d version of MySQL will be next.
Ellison is probably not very enthused about the open source aspects of MySQL. For one thing, he probably sees it as competing with Oracle RDBMS, which just happens to be Oracle’s cash cow. He could just quit supporting the GPL’d version by refusing to open source new code added to the proprietary versions but that would only invite a fork. As I mentioned yesterday, the open source implementation of MySQL is too important to fail, so we could expect IBM, Google and others to pick-up the ball in that case, and continue development of a MySQL fork.
That would be potentially disastrous for Oracle and great for the FOSS community. If heavy hitters like IBM were behind the development of a forked version, new feature sets and functionality would eventually be worked into the new database and Oracle wouldn’t be able to fold them into their proprietary version, since any changes in the forked version would be protected by the GPL. This would have the potential of rendering Oracle’s MySQL valueless, or else force Oracle to spend a fortune in R&D to keep MySQL ahead of the curve.
For a while, I think, we’re going to see Oracle pretend to support the open sourced MySQL. But I also think we’ll start to see features creeping into the proprietary version that never show up under the GPL. If this is the case, players like IBM might be slow to too publicly support a MySQL fork, for they need good relations with Oracle since they sell a lot of servers running the Oracle stack, and we’ve already seen how reactionary Mr. Ellison gets when he feels threatened by competition.
However, I don’t think the FOSS community should wait to see what actions Oracle takes. A fork should be done sooner rather than later. As I’ve already pointed-out, Oracle seems to have nothing but disdain for the open source model. I think it’s a safe bet that the long term continued openness of MySQL isn’t safe with Ellison at the helm.
Red Hat would be the obvious one to pick-up the reins to create a new open source DB based on MySQL code. Perhaps they could hire MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius, who’s already working on a forked version. They’ve got the open source credentials and the financial resources. Thousands of web sites running Red Hat SQL would certainly be a feather in their fedora.