The Fight to Save MySQL: Interview with Monty Widenius

MySQL developer Widenius claims that Oracle's ownership of the open source database will mean the eventual loss of MySQL as a first-class database without any adequate open source replacement.
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"I will do everything that is possible to keep MySQL alive," says Michael (Monty) Widenius, the main developer of the well-known open source database. "I just hope it's enough."

Widenius is talking against the background of Oracle Corporation's acquisition of MySQL along with the other assets of Sun Microsystems. According to Widenius, if allowed to stand, the acquisition will mean the eventual loss of MySQL as a first-class database without any adequate open source replacement.

Just as important, he sees the acquisition as bringing the GNU General Public License (GPL) into disrepute and the exclusion of free and open source software from the consideration of anti-trust laws. And as the acquisition gradually gains approval throughout the world, the chances of avoiding these results is appearing increasingly remote.

MySQL, the Takeovers, and the Resistance

The last two years have been hard on MySQL. Ever since Sun's purchase of MySQL in February 2008, the future of the database has seemed increasingly uncertain.

Disagreeing with development decisions, Widenius himself left Sun eleven months after the purchase to start Monty Program AB, a non-profit company that develops MariaDB, a community-centered MySQL fork.

Then, in April 2009, Oracle announced its purchase of Sun -- and, with it, MySQL. The deal won U.S. antitrust approval in August 2009, and was approved by the European Union in January 2010. Russian and Chinese anti-trust regulators have yet to approve the acquisition, although Widenius expect them to announce a decision in the next couple of months.

In December 2009, Oracle issued a media release promising to continue developing MySQL as free software for the next five years. But Widenius points out that this promise is not binding in any way.

In fact, Widenius has opposed the acquisition in every possible venue. He has frequently opposed it on his blog, and started two petitions against the acquisition, which he says have collected a total of 40,000 responses. Together with Richard Stallman and others, he has also signed a formal letter to the European Union objecting to the deal.

Although Widenius began by urging that Oracle not be allowed to acquire MySQL, more recently he has concentrated on obtaining legal guarantees from Oracle, either through an appeal of the European Union decision or through the disapproval of Russian or possibly Chinese anti-trust regulators.

Widenius' opposition to the deal has made some people suggest that he and his supporters have delayed the deal, causing Sun Microsystems employees increased stress and uncertainty.

However, Widenius denies this accusation, saying, "We are not the ones who are setting the timetable. It was Oracle that dragged out things by not responding and not providing remedies. The only thing that I have tried to do is get Oracle to accept some proper remedies that are good for everyone. And I don't think it's the wrong thing to do."

Similarly, Widenius denies being motivated by an attempt to receive more money for his former interest in MySQL or to make Monty Program AB profitable by placing himself in the spotlight. He has invested much of the 16.6 million Euros he received from Sun's purchase of MySQL in Monty Program AB, and frankly admits that the company has next to no chance of making a profit. Nor is he interested in selling Monty Program unless he can find a buyer with open source's interests at heart.

Instead, he claims to be opposing Oracle's acquisition out of a sense of personal responsibility: to his employees, to his customers, and to the larger open source community.

Widenius admits, too, that his personal pride is at stake. "I'm trying to save something that I've worked on for a long time. Actually, I'm trying to do something good for the community and open source, just as I have done for the past fifteen years. But people don't understand the concept that some people really believe in open source, and are trying to provide good software for everyone. I have been doing that, and I would like to continue doing that."

The impossibility of a replacement

According to Widenius, everyone in the free software community should question Oracle's acquisition because the corporation is an untrustworthy guardian for MySQL. Oracle, he says, is likely to neglect MySQL, eventually leaving the community scrambling for a replacement.

Widenius points out that, in the past, Oracle has acquired free software databases such as Innobase and Berkeley DB and made promises to keep them as active community projects. Instead, it has brought development in-house, slowing their development.

Now, Widenius predicts a similar fate for MySQL. Already, he says, future versions have been delayed or cancelled, and the MySQL newsletter is increasingly focused on inter-connectivity with the Oracle product line. Although Widenius was unable to compare the number of patches to the code since the acquisition to those of previous years, he did note that many people had left the project, and that Oracle had already reduced the community development team from three to six. All these signs suggest that MySQL will be treated the same as Innobase and Berkeley DB.

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Tags: open source, MySQL, database, Oracle, Oracle Database

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