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Ellison & the GPL Part II

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.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

10 comments to Ellison & the GPL Part II

  • gfernandes

    [QUOTE]we could expect IBM, Google and others to pick-up the ball in that case, and continue development of a MySQL fork[/QUOTE]

    Thats unlikely to happen. A lot has been said about it and I’m sure you can look it up (specifically I’d recommend articles and discussion on lwn.net). Essentially Monty W. (the creator of MySQL) has intentionally shot himself in the foot here.

    You can hardly expect many people to shed tears over his self-inflicted wounds. And you really should expect even less, any big corporate to come forward to help extract Mr. Wideneus from his self-inflicted mess.

  • Chris

    Hm, I thought MariaDB was just that – A fork which is not only developed by Mr. Widenius but also picks up where MySQL left off

  • Jobin Augustine

    From the article, i am assuming that you may not be following mysql community and mysql conferences.

    I am a DBA. from my point of view, everything happened for good.

    mysql had few design issues but copyright owners never bothered to listen to community and ready to accept patches from public. So large set of the community went ahead and forked it 2008 and hosted publicaliy in launchpad (thanks to cannonical) https://launchpad.net/drizzle/.. the project is named Drizzle.

    Now Drizzle is one of the most active projects in lauchpad. around 600+ commits per month. and around 100 contributors.

    Now big names of the Mysql world like
    Brian Aker, Monty Tailor, Stewart Smith, Jay Pipes..are contributors for Drizzle.

    From technical standpoint, Drizzle is much superior than mysql. still it can talk mysql protocal. so you need not modify your application.

    This is a opensource project like linux. not a opensource product from a company any more.

  • gfernandes

    [QUOTE]A fork which is not only developed by Mr. Widenius but also picks up where MySQL left off[/QUOTE]

    Yes, MariaDB is a for driven by Mr. Widenius. But the second half of that statement would be more accurate if it read:
    …but also picks up the MySQL Business Model where MySQL left off (due to being taken over by Oracle).

    Mr. Widenius is about a Business Model – he’s not about MySQL, although he most certainly is the man behind it.

  • Troy

    I am not sure what the author is worried about. MySQL code is GPL’ed and will continue. Even if that were not true, there are plenty of other open source databases:

    Drizzle
    PostgreSQL
    Firebird
    Fyracle
    Gadfly
    H2
    HSQLDB
    Ingres
    MariaDB
    SQLite

    and more I am forgetting … at anyrate plenty of choices for almost any work load. So, if Oracle does more stupid things or not, there will always continue to be choice in open source databases.

  • Christine Hall

    @Jobin Augustine I’d forgotten all about Drizzle, thanks for reminding me. Just goes to show, there are plenty of MySQL compatible DBs out there to start picking up the load. I still think sooner rather than later, so we don’t get caught with our pants down, so to speak. In light of the situation with MySQL, the more developmental funds that projects like Drizzle can get, the better.

    @Troy True. There are plenty of open source DBs. However, if Oracle starts playing games, a lot of sites and mission critical apps are going to need a replacement in a hurry that can just be swapped-out.

  • batguano

    What is the problem? Oracle honors the GPL. Do they refuse to upstream changes to their unbreakable linux? Have they slowed or driven the development of MySQL in a direction that upsets the community? Don’t they have kernel developers including Chris Mason of the btrfs file system on the payroll? Doesn’t freedom include the right to use resources to attain company goals even if that means dropping development of OpenSolaris? OpenSolaris has forked and other former Sun projects orphaned by Oracle have forked without any blow back from Oracle. Oracle is a take no prisoners company. That is not incompatible with FOSS, just maybe not the norm.

  • MOGH

    http://www.mysql.fr/about/legal/licensing/foss-exception/

    Attn: copyright(c) Oracle
    “Oracle reserves all rights not expressly granted in these terms and conditions. If all of the above conditions are not met, then this FOSS License Exception does not apply to you or your Derivative Work.”

    Reads as if the GPL is just there, and Oracle just overrides it. Its not GPL code when the GPL license is not the primary.

    Override an Oracle license and see what happens. Just a lack of respect for something Oracle profits. Oracle should learn soon enough that the community around MySQL can have a change of heart to Oracle’s bottom-line loss.

  • Insider

    @MOGH – that is the FOSS Exception – for those projects that are not under the GPL, otherwise the GPL applies. It was created so MySQL would be more open, not less.

  • MOGH

    @Insider

    Independent work was not the point I was making.

    Thanks though.