Widenius foresees that MySQL will be tied increasingly to other Oracle products with a series of proprietary features. Gradually, "They will market MySQL as an entry database that you can use until you afford something real." And after five years, of course, Oracle will be no longer be bound by its news-release promise to keep MySQL alive as a community project.
Under this scenario, Widenius worries that free and open source software will be left without a replacement for MySQL, especially on the Web. The fact that MySQL competes with proprietary databases today is not enough, he says -- it has to continue to develop to remain a contender.
After all, he notes, "If you're a big company, you don't want to buy a car that you can't buy spare parts for. You would be better off with SQL Server, because Microsoft has a team of more than a hundred people working day and night on it, compared to a product that has no one working on it."
Nor is PostgreSQL, the other leading free software database, a contender. "I think PostgreSQL is doing an amazing job, and it's a good database, but PostgeSQL was never designed for the Web environment. It doesn't have replication and a lot of other features that are needed for the Web."
Even counting on a fork (an alternate development of the code) of MySQL is a risky alternative -- regardless of whether it is Maria DB. "To do a fork, you need a huge coordinated effort. You need something like five million dollars a year to pay for developer salaries. And in the whole history of MySQL, we never got a community. We were open and we tried to get help, but a community doesn't just appear and start to do something" -- especially in a field that requires such expert knowledge as a database.
Moreover, assuming that the recent discovery that 75% of all Linux kernel contributions are made by paid developers, a fork would need to convince several companies that it was worth their investment.
Still, Widenius considers that the community's best hope is "some big companies stepping in to say, 'We don't want Oracle being dominant in the database. So let's fund some fork.' It can be mine [Maria DB] or someone else's -- that's the only thing I can see in the long term. But it's not very likely. But I'm still hoping that some people who don't want to depend on Oracle will be willing to do that. I mean, that happened with Linux; a lot of people started to fund Linux. But in Linux's case, it was easier because they can get direct benefits from doing that. With MySQL, it's much harder, but it's still a remote possibility."
However, even if replacement software is found or created, Widenius suggests that the Oracle acquisition could have even larger implications for free and open source software than the removal of what many consider an essential application.
Some commenters, like Eben Moglen, have argued that, because the GNU General Public License guarantees the availability of the MySQL code, Oracle's acquisition is of no concern.
But Widenius argues that this view is short-sighted. Being released under the GPL was not enough to save ReiserFS, a popular partition format, when Hans Reiser, its main developer, was found guilty of murdering his wife. Instead, development on it faltered and gradually ceased. "The GPL," Widenius concludes, "doesn't assure that someone will step up and be a leader and take over a project."
Even more importantly, Widenius worries that, if Oracle's acquisition is allowed to stand unchallenged, then people will conclude that the GPL is not a license to use. The fact is that, unlike the more than 65% of free and open source software that uses the GPL, MySQL is essentially a programming language. That makes MySQL harder to develop than a desktop application like OpenOffice.org (which Oracle also acquired with Sun), but most people will probably not make the distinction.