Posted on

Various Anniversaries

This week, ten years ago, I was in London for MySQL AB‘s first “train the trainer” course, also meeting (for the first time) my first boss at MySQL Kaj. I’d been hired mid August as employee#25, also doing training but actually primarily as tech-writer for the MySQL documentation (taking over from Jeremy Cole, and essentially I was the documentation team for quite some time ;-). So from this you can deduce that yes, I was hired without meeting either Kaj or anyone in-person! I don’t think we even had a phone call, only email. Oh the days 😉

The training week itself was of course disrupted quite a bit by the events in New York. We had Jeremy who had come on a UA flight from the US, and others from all over the place… it also taught some students a lesson about browsing the net while in a training course, it can end up very distracting.

The oddest event I remember about that particular trip happened upon departure from Heathrow: someone with a clipboard went round the long queues asking whether anybody was carrying eyebrow tweezers. No other items/questions, just that.

I stayed with MySQL for about 6 years, until with a brief break, I started my own company Open Query in 2007 (about half a year before the Sun acquisition). So this September marks the 4-year anniversary of that event already. I spotted an old business card earlier, reminding me that early on we did not just MySQL consulting and training, but also (OSS) business advice – that’s now essentially spun off to Upstarta.

The MySQL side of my business has changed quite significantly as well, going from the usual reactive consulting to proactive subscriptions, in part based on Pythian‘s successful model. A key difference has been that we don’t do emergencies. This disruptive shift happened somewhat by luck, after a talk at Linux Users of Victoria in April 2009. Ben Dechrai made a video recording of this interactive “Relax! A Failure is not an Emergency…” try-out. It also mentioned the BlueHackers initiative/stickers.

While some people including competitors regard our “no emergencies” approach as nuts ;-), it has worked out very well and apart from making customers happy it’s created the sane lifestyle I was looking for (so I could spend more time with my daughter), and enabled contracting others as well. We’re still growing organically, having adapted our internal tools and processes for the proactive service approach along the way – obviously, it’s now more about project management than handling incident tickets.

Like my time at MySQL AB, my journey since then has so far proven interesting, educational, and mostly enjoyable. Later in the year I aim to once again buy a house with a modest garden. And it’s the independence that’ll have made that -and my other explorations- possible. Who knows what lies ahead – most fun when you create your own future!

Posted on

Wikileaks Cable Offers New Insights Into Oracle-Sun Deal | PCWorld Business Center

Posted on

Petition for MySQL consideration in Oracle+Sun merger

MySQL requires special consideration in the Oracle+Sun merger, otherwise both Oracle and MySQL users and vendors will literally pay the price. If you agree, please sign this petition now.

To be very clear, Open Query is in favour of the merger, we feel that overall it’s a good fit. We would also like to see it happen quickly, as obviously this is best for Sun employees and clients, as well as Oracle’s broad business prospects.  Read more

Posted on

The Future of MySQL (EU Crunch Time)

You’ve probably seen Monty’s post Help Saving MySQL. This is about

  1. Development (will Oracle put significant effort into MySQL, actually innovating)
  2. Brand (“MySQL” has a huge footprint), the trademark owner can enforce this – there have already been issues with companies offering MySQL related services via Google AdWords not being able to use the word MySQL in their ad text even though it was correctly used as an adjective.
  3. Forking is fine, but still has to deal with the branding. For MySQL, that’s possibly the most significant issue of any OSS product ever encountered. You’re not competing against a company, but against an existing brand footprint that you (because of the trademark) have to steer clear of. So “just fork it” is not an easy or short term option, there’s more involved than technical/development work.
  4. Code IP – to some degree (IMHO less important), it’s the thing that enables dual licensing. I regard dual licensing as a pest that’s best got rid of.

The really important thing to realise is that this is not about “killing Sun to save MySQL”, or “sending the right message to investors”. The former is merely a consequence of Oracle’s unwillingness to discuss any other option (whether rightfully or not, that’s just a fact) and the latter has no direct bearing on what’s right for either MySQL or Oracle – it’s definitely a factor that the investor world may consider, but it wouldn’t be a consideration for the EU.

With all that noted… please look at Monty’s post, he provides options and links to for you to action whichever way forward you feel is appropriate, whether for or against or neutral towards Oracle being able to take over Sun with MySQL in unmodified fashion. I think it’s good for more users (essentially interested parties) to express their opinion, since Oracle has managed to mobilise its own customers to flood the EU with their angle. While valid, the result ends up being a tad one-sided!

As I wrote on my comment/update on the Possible Movement in the Oracle/Sun/MySQL/EU Case, it’s unfortunate that the rumour suggesting that Oracle was willing to have MySQL as a separate business entity turned out to not be true, as I reckon it would have been a useful outcome for both Oracle and MySQL. A company can’t/won’t disrupt itself, and there are serious business-related “conflicts” to deal with if a single company sells both both products. Corporate structures and sales will always make decisions to steer away from competing with itself, and generally choose the most profitable road. Which one of the two that is in this case is not relevant, my take is that in the market both Oracle and MySQL have their place, so having either one lose out would not be good.

Irrespective of good intentions, companies do abide by certain rules – well actually many companies are ignorant of them and waste tons of money essentially trying to defy gravity. In any case, for me the issue is not with Oracle having good intentions or mistrusting that, the issue is that not even Oracle can defy gravity. The effort will go where the money is.

Remember what I quoted long ago about IBM and the PC? (Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen), IBM planted the new department in another state with its own management and finances, because they knew that in the corporate/management decisions, inevitably the existing mainframe business would win and thus prevent any cannibalisation (from within) of its position. In a nutshell, a company can’t disrupt itself. It’s well documented. I think that overall, the Oracle/Sun deal is a good match. But also, I think MySQL needs to be handled properly to make sure that both MySQL and Oracle (the db product) will thrive in the future. I feel that’s what’s important.

Posted on

Possible movement in the Oracle/Sun/MySQL/EU case

From NY Post: Oracle Leader Blinks – Larry’s Olive Branch (to the EU), the NYpost sources apparently say that “what […] Ellison is proposing is the creation of a firewall between MySQL and the rest of the combined company, and possibly setting up an entirely separate board for the MySQL business.”

There is no independent confirmation of any of this, so it may be true, or just air, or a trial balloon to see how other parties respond… I’m not going to add opinions to this, I just reckon it’s an interesting progression in the case. We’ll see how it pans out.

Update: so it’s not true (see Reuters).

(so now I’ll add my opinion…) Unfortunate in a way because from my perspective it would have actually been a useful outcome for both Oracle and MySQL. A company can’t/won’t disrupt itself, and there are serious business-related “conflicts” to deal with if a single company sells both. Corporate structures will always make decisions to steer away from competing with itself, and go for the most profitable road. Which one of the two that is in this case is not relevant, the point is that in the market both Oracle and MySQL have their place, so having either one lose out would not be good.

Posted on

Market share vs market impact

This is very relevant in the context of the EU probe of the Oracle-Sun takeover. MySQL’s share of the database market, which is usually measured by revenue, is of course peanuts and estimated range from half a percent to something slightly more. Peanuts.

This is not surprising, considering an estimated 999 out of every 1000 MySQL users does not pay Sun/MySQL anything (although some might be Open Query clients 😉 and while MySQL has been targeting higher-end clients and corresponding higher revenue, its pricing is still far lower than the premium-cost of Oracle, DB2 and the like.

All this proves very clearly something which I’ve been saying for years (do scan back in my blog ;-), the definition of market share is borked when it comes to Open Source and low-end disruptors (MySQL has been both although it might no longer be a low-end disruptor, having overshot the needs of a significant chunk of its users). The market impact (usage and influence) of such products is much greater than their revenue. So we have to consider, what matters most? I think the usage and influence matters most, but usage is difficult to measure for OSS, and influence is a subjective issue. Analysts go for solid numbers, and therefore revenue is a sensible -and traditionally reasonably accurate- way to see how things are, including in terms of influence and usage.

So, what is interesting about the EU probe is that it appears to acknowledge that little MySQL actually is a big force in the database market, and that is spot on. As to whether it makes sense to stall the takeover while meanwhile Sun is continuing its freefall and vultures IBM, HP and MS are circling around…. that’s a different matter. Having a philosophical debate while the patient is bleeding to death and getting pecked by scavengers… you get the idea. And I believe that Oracle has, all things considered, done a very decent job with InnoDB since its acquisition. With the takeover I’m not entirely convinced either way; it’s definitely interesting stuff playing out, but it shouldn’t be dragged on too much, that doesn’t help anybody.

Posted on

EU probes Oracle’s bid to buy Sun

It appears that little MySQL has just become a disproportionally big player in the Oracle-Sun takeover deal…. article by Associated Press: EU probes Oracle’s bid to buy Sun notes:

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said Thursday that regulators needed to examine the effect of a deal “when the world’s biggest proprietary database company proposes to take over the world’s leading open-source database company.”

Ah, Neelie Kroes. Dutch lady from the liberal (that’s seriously right-wing in NL, my American friends 😉 party, formerly minister for infrastructure in NL, long time ago.

So what can happen now? The EU can (and I’m skipping a few steps for brevity here) force the MySQL part of Sun to be auctioned separately, to allow the remainder of the detail to go through. One thing is fairly predictable, the price is probably not going to be $1 bln. As far as it wasn’t overpriced back then, a fair amount of talent and activity is not actually inside Sun any more. Less predictable, who might buy what is now there?

And on a side note, where will Drizzle fit… would be regarded as part of the MySQL bundle as it uses its IP for its foundation? If MySQL goes, and Drizzle stays, then Sun(/Oracle) will have a project for which it does not own the core IP. That can be perfectly fine, but that’s not what it’s been aiming for: Drizzle accepts contributions under BSD license, which means that the core IP owner (currently Sun) is actually able to dual-license it just like MySQL. Not saying that’s what it intends with Drizzle, but the arrangement currently makes Drizzle a potential net asset rather than merely a cool/useful project.

There’s plenty of independent interest (not just intellectual but business/money) in MySQL and Drizzle. I for one prefer that angle in the ecosystem now, it might be better off without core IP ownership. Dual licensing was ok for a time in MySQL’s history, but it’s fairly irrelevant and mainly a nuisance.

In any case… who would have thought, that little database originally written by Monty in Helsinki, causing so much trouble 😉

Posted on

MySQL docs freedom

As you may or may not know, long long ago (in this universe) I used to be the MySQL documentation team 😉  Yes, a team of one. This was 2001. It was a great and interesting time. The current much extended team is doing a great job with the now much bigger set of docs!

Today, I find myself disagreeing with my former colleagues on one particular aspect, namely its licensing. You see, the documentation has never been released under an open license, it used to be plainly copyright all rights reserved, and later some rights were granted to distribute the docs together with the server.

Statements made earlier by Karen Padir regarding possible opening up of the docs license filled us with hope. Then, Stefan Hinz (the current docs team lead) wrote a blog entry MySQL documentation: no license change. Some of the arguments there we can just plainly disagree on, but fundamentally Sun wants to discourage forks and basically says that if you want to fork the code, you have to write your own docs. Of course they’re entitled to that position, it’s theirs to make. So what’s my problem with this? Of course I’m going to tell, that’s why I started this post.

While the MySQL codebase is GPL and cannot be “taken back” and closed regardless of who owns it. However, the documentation is not protected in this way to guarantee its continued availability to the community.

People have no implicit trust towards big companies (or even smaller corporations), whether it’s the old MySQL AB, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, or another organisation. Their track record is such that at any point strategic decisions can be made that go against everything they were professing the previous week. Which, by the way, I completely appreciate from a business perspective – whether I fundamentally like it or not.

But if you have a business partner, someone you trust, you don’t just shake hands on a critical arrangement, you establish a binding contract so that the terms are laid out clearly, can’t be reinterpreted later, and can’t just be revoked except within the prescribed terms. Still there’s plenty of litigation about contracts, but that’s a whole other matter. Situations change, people responsible change to different people, and companies change owners.

So, the only thing that makes people trust such organisations is a guarantee that has been externalised and thus can’t be revoked unilaterally. The GPL license satisfies that very well for code. Regardless of who owns the code, the fact that it’s GPL means that it can’t be closed up again retrospectively – at least the codebase up to the point where the license changes (if the company owns all the copyright to the code) will always be free.

With the documentation, it’s copyright Sun/MySQL all rights reserved and while certain grants have been made, those restricted liberties are not implicitly irrevocable, i.e. they have not been granted in perpetuity. As it stands now, the current or future owner of that IP could change the license, and hunt down any outstanding copy to enforce the new arrangement. I’m not suggesting they will change anything, but there is no externalised guarantee they won’t.

I believe this is a serious concern for the product as a whole, and hope this concern will be addressed by Sun Microsystems very soon – with action.

Posted on

Oracle agrees to buy Sun

See Oracle Agrees to Acquire Sun Microsystems (NY Times, 20 April 2009). Wellwell, that’s quite interesting, isn’t it… as to what it means for MySQL, ZFS, OpenSolaris,, VirtualBox, Java, and numerous other tidbits, that remains to be seen.

It must be a buzzy kind of day at the MySQL Users Conference 2009, with this news coming in just before the opening… and it’s only been a year since Sun bought MySQL and Jonathan Schwartz did a key note at the conference. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more from a lot of people, not necessarily content but definitely conjecture and pre-emptive opinions 😉