Many open-sourcers back an Oracle takeover of MySQL

Claim critics like Widenius, Stallman spread unfounded fears about MySQL's future

A number of influential members of the open-source community are raising their voices about Oracle Corp.'s pending takeover of the open source MySQL database. Surprisingly, many are not opposing the shift in MySQL ownership that would come with the close of Oracle's $US7.4 billion deal to acquire current owner Sun Microsystems Inc., contending that it would not wound the open source database.

Those supporters say that MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius, free software advocate Richard Stallman, and others are whipping up unfounded fears about the future of MySQL in order to get the European Commission to either quash the entire deal or at least force Oracle to sell off MySQL. TheEC launched an in-depth investigation into the planned merger this fall, citing "serious concerns" about how the deal would affect database competition.

"I may be a contrarian on this, but I don't think Oracle will have any dramatically-enhanced market power," said Mark Shuttleworth, founder and CEO of Canonical Ltd., maker of the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. The latest Ubuntu Server 9.10 version includes a copy of MySQL. "The EU's sophistication on open-source matters may make them inclined to overreact. In fact, they have little to worry about."

Opponents like Widenius and Stallman argue that whatever Oracle and it's CEO Larry Ellison may claim, the acquirer would either weaken or bury the widely-used MySQL in order to protect its proprietary database, which generates more than $US8.5 billion in revenue a year for the company.

They also contend that what supporters of the deal call MySQL's salvation -- its open-source status, which allows anyone to download, modify and even sell their own versions of MySQL -- is just a mirage.

However, open-source veterans such as Carlo Piana, a lawyer for the Free Software Foundation Europe who successfully sued Microsoft to open its Windows networking protocols, maintain that Oracle's ownership wouldn't hurt the future of MySQL.

"If Oracle were hypothetically to bend the project away from competition in the high end or simply make it a stale project, it is clear to me that the declining fortunes of the original work would leave (disgruntled developers) room to further the success of the fork(s)," -- new software created from open source code, wrote Piana.

Matthew Aslett, an analyst at research firm The 451 Group, argue that opponents are "spreading what can only be described as fear, uncertainty and doubt. The only possible argument in favor of the EC blocking Oracle's acquisition of MySQL is that it is damaging to competition, not that it is damaging to MySQL itself," which is the primary arguments of opponents like Widenius and Stallman, Aslett wrote in a 451 Group blog post earlier this month.

"Otherwise we are asking the EC to rule on whether Oracle is open source-friendly enough to own MySQL, and that is neither something that an organization like the EC is equipped to answer nor something that it should be asked to decide," he added.

Pamela Jones, editor of the Groklaw open-source blog, suggests that opponents such as Widenius, who recently became an advisor to Microsoft's CodePlex Foundation open-source community site, may be acting as pawns for organizations interested in buying MySQL if Oracle is forced to sell.

"There is a Microsoft shadow in this picture," she wrote.

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Eric Lai

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