Your Money or Your MySQL

Andy Oram recently sent around to the O’Reilly editors’ list some thoughts on the recent acquisition of InnoDB, MySQL’s enterprise component, by Oracle. They are a thought provoking read, even in the version below, which is sanitized of some insider gossip that Andy felt would be better not repeated off O’Reilly’s lists. While I’ve long maintained that licenses are a red herring when it comes to understanding the true importance of open source, there are definitely business implications to the license chosen. As Andy speculates, Oracle’s purchase may well be an attempt to use the same dual licensing strategy that MySQL has employed so successfully against them. Here’s Andy:

Your money or your MySQL

On Friday, October 7, Oracle announced that it bought a key technology
behind MySQL: InnoDB. Here is some background, analysis, and rampant


MySQL is a dual-licensed database engine. The company makes its
money by selling licenses to companies that want to incorporate
MySQL into commercial products. MySQL is open-source for everybody
else, hence its popularity.

MySQL used to have a single type of database that lacked such
features as transactions and row-level locking, features considered
so fundamental to databases that for a long time MySQL was called
a toy. Several years ago the company took a big leap in offering
these features–but rather than develop them in-house, they licensed
outside talent.

(The history of MySQL AB’s deals with other companies is interesting:
its first attempt to implement transactions took software from
SleepyCat, but it fell pretty much into disuse after InnoDB came
along. Now MySQL AB is using talent from SAP to add a lot of SQL
compliance. In short, a few brilliant coders can’t always do it all
themselves; they can use help from experienced outsiders–although
apparently InnoDB was developed originally by one brilliant coder,
Heikki Tuuri. By now MySQL AB is huge, though, so they can probably
move more development in-house–and that will save them now.)

InnoDB is what they ended up with, and it is the center of the
“enterprise” features they are now leveraging to become a major
vendor. It was dual-licensed to MySQL on the same terms that MySQL
was licensed to its users. That InnoDB is the intellectual property
of another company is an Achilles heal for MySQL AB, and Paris’s
arrow has now struck.

The buy-out

There is no indication what the buy-out offers either Oracle or
InnoDB. For the developer of InnoDB, Heikki Tuuri, the draw was
probably financial. But strangely enough, the next day Tuuri was
back on IRC helping random users with questions. So he still has

Oracle and InnoDB claim they’ll continue developing the product and
offering it to MySQL AB on the same terms. MySQL declares “business
as usual” and various other platitudes. But it’s really hard to
believe that the tiny InnoDB company with their lightweight storage
engine had any technology or skill to offer Oracle.

And look at the timing! Just as MySQL 5.0 becomes official. The
moment for FUD couldn’t be better.

The response

MySQL’s current contract with InnoDB extends another year and a
half. They may well find an accommodation and keep on track. (There
are many enhancements being planned for InnoDB.) But as I said
before, MySQL AB has grown a lot and developed some rich and powerful
friends. It probably has the resources in place for replacing InnoDB,
should it feel that’s necessary.


I think the adoption of MySQL by new, large enterprises–what MySQL
AB is currently gunning for–will be slightly slowed down by the
Oracle news, but will continue anyway.

This incident seems to combine elements of two putative crises in
the Linux world: the SCO lawsuits and the BitKeeper incident.

SCO, like Oracle, used a lightning strike that was both heavy-handed
and underhanded to try to leverage its power. I think Oracle has
more of a chance of succeeding (it has a stronger position in the
industry and knows what it’s doing) but ultimately the open-source
community will prevail. Paris killed Achilles, remember, but Troy
still lost.

BitKeeper was a proprietary version control package that Linux
developers used to maintain kernel code. (MySQL uses it too.) As
with MySQL and InnoDB, Linux’s reliance on the makers of
BitKeeper was a potential risk. When the owners of BitKeeper announced
they were withdrawing the free version, scads of commentators
announced this was a crisis for Linux. Yet Linus Torvalds and others
quickly developed a replacement that the free software community
now thinks may be a breakthrough for version control. Once again,
the community overcomes the blows of the
proprietary world.