Save Sun jobs, let Oracle finalise acquisition

3:33 pm community, freesoftware, gnome

I’ve stayed quiet on this, but listened on the sidelines, for a while now. But the blogs I read today from Monty and Mneptok lead me to reply.

I was a long-time Sun shareholder (don’t laugh) but sold my shares as soon as the Oracle acquisition was announced. I was pretty ambivalent about the deal at the time, not really taking position on either side of the fence, and happy just to think about possibilities.

But the latest lobbying of the EU to try to stymie the deal has ticked me off.

MySQL, through their choice of licensing and business model, set the rules of the game. Sun bought MySQL for lots of money. It’s their property now. It is, as Michael Meeks said, very bad form for the guy who set up the rules to complain that they’re not fair now.

So what will the effect of Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems be?

First, Oracle offered $7.4bn for Sun, while Sun (over)paid $1bn for MySQL at the beginning of 2008. That means, being generous, that MySQL makes up under 13% of Sun. And the other 87% no-one is worried about, apparently.

Second, Sun is haemorraging money. This is not surprising; any time a company offers to buy another company, all the existing customers who were planning purchases wait until the acquisition is finished. They want to know what product lines are being maintained, whether licensing, support or pricing conditions change. In short, it is expected that the revenues for a company between the moment an acquiqition is announced and the moment it is finalised go into the toilet.

Third, friends of mine work at Sun. I’m seeing them be miserable because they don’t know what role they have to play in the company. They don’t know if they’re going to have a job in a few months. And the chances of them having a job in a few months are inversely related to the amount of time until this acquisition is completed. Low employee morale during uncertainty is another inevitable consequence of the delay in the acquisition, and it’s one with longer term consequences for the health of the company than any short-term delayed purchase decisions.

The uncertainty is killing Sun, and it’s killing the projects that Sun owns – MySQL among them. One possible outcome of all of this is that Oracle come back with a lower offer price after this all shakes out, because frankly Sun is worth less, the deal falls through, and Sun as a company will be on life support.

I have read RMS’s letter to Neelie Kroes, and I respectfully disagree. The entire letter reads as an advocacy of dual licensing as the way to make money from a free software project – an astounding position given the signatories. To quote: “As only the original rights holder can sell commercial licenses, no new forked version of the code will have the ability to practice the parallel licensing approach, and will not easily generate the resources to support continued development of the MySQL platform.”

I had to check twice to ensure that the thing was indeed signed by Richard Matthew Stallman, and not someone else with the same initials.

MySQL is available under the GPL v2, a well understood licence. Oracle will be free to take it closed-source only. They will be free to change the licence (perhaps even to GPL v3). They will even be free to kill development of the project altogether. Does this put companies like Monty Program at a disadvantage compared to Oracle? Perhaps. Is that disadvantage insurmountable? Not at all. MariaDB and Drizzle have a great chance of succeeding in the same way MySQL did – by disrupting the database market.

The whole thing smells to me like a double standard – it’s OK to have certain licensing policies if you’re friendly, but not if you aren’t. Luis Villa set me straight on this point a few years back, and it has stuck with me: “what if the corporate winds change? [...] At that point, all the community has is the license, and [the company's] licensing choices”. You trust the license, and the licensing choices. And at this point, I’m more concerned about the jobs of the people working at Sun, and the future of Sun owned projects, than I am about what Oracle will or won’t do with/to MySQL.

6 Responses

  1. P Diddy Says:

    To be honest, I don’t know many people at Sun who actually want to work for Oracle anyway.

    Even though the takeover falling through at this stage would likely mean a more sudden and painful end for Sun, a lot of them would prefer to let Sun die a natural death, remember the good times and move on, than be swallowed up by what is, by all accounts, a rather boring company making rather boring (albeit essential) products.

  2. Benoit Jacob Says:

    The rules have always been the same: there is a regulator who checks that mergers make sense before allowing them. Perhaps things have been blurred a little by the fact that the US regulators have been sleeping through this time, but that doesn’t change this rule.

    Sun acquiring MySql was plausibly legitimate. Oracle acquiring MySql is not, of course. I hate having to explain this as it is like 2+2=4, but anyway — a strong MySql undermines Oracle’s cash cow, end of the story.

    That MySql was dual licensed has nothing to do with this at all. The part on dual-licensing, the part on your poor friends at Sun, and whatever Monty says, all that is irrelevant.

    My own humble irrelevant opinion is: just let Sun sell MySql, and then let Oracle buy Sun. And don’t blame the EU regulators on this one, because if the US regulators had done their job in the first place, this would long be over.

  3. stormy Says:

    I agree that long takeovers/mergers can really hurt employee morale and productivity.

    And the work won’t be done once the purchase is approved …

  4. Jef Spaleta: Can corporations be friendly? | TuxWire : The Linux Blog Says:

    [...] friendly? tuxwire | Dec 14, 2009 | 0 comments Inside the current crop of blog posts like this one about the MySQL/ Oracle acquisition.. there is insight into a deeper issue which I want to talk [...]

  5. Dave Neary Says:

    Hi Benoit,

    The rules I’m referring to are the way MySQL works – copyright assignment + dual licensing. I’ve written about this before, linked to those posts here, I’m not going to go back over why I think dual licensing is bad for community creation. And Monty was the one who set up the rules.

    Where I contest your opinion is “Sun acquiring MySql was plausibly legitimate. Oracle acquiring MySql is not, of course” – why “of course”? Competitors acquire each other all the time. “A strong MySql undermines Oracle’s cash cow” – is that really the goal? Is anyone seriously suggesting that there is no competition in the relational database market? Ever heard of DB2? SQL Server? Sybase? Access? And then in free software, there’s Postgres, MySQL, MariaDB, Drizzle, Firebird, Ingres, SQLite… to name the most well known. It is ridiculous to suggest there’s no competition in the market, or that MySQL suddenly becomes less valuable as a database product because Oracle owns the copyrights to the (GPL licenced, remember) code.

    Dave.

  6. Yuval Levy Says:

    Fully agree with you, Dave.

    There’s enough competition in the DB market. Oracle’s ownership of MySQL will somewhat change the market but not significantly enough to attract antitrust concerns IMHO.

    If anything, the transaction shows that copyright assignment is a double-edged sword and users of a software should consider not only its licenses (MySQL and Linux are both GPL) but also its ownership and consequences on future developments.

    I have no doubt that MySQL (or a fork thereof) has the potential to survive and thrive, under GPL, the same way as Linux and the other projects you mention are alive and well.