Thursday, January 21, 2010

Understanding Monty - the motiviations behind Widenius' opposition to the Oracle-Sun deal

Oracle issued a press release this morning. It was one of those press releases in which the disclaimers are longer than the body of the release. You can read the disclaimers here if you like; I'm just going to focus on the main body of the press release. Actually, I'm going to ignore the second of the two paragraphs and just look at the first one.

Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ: ORCL) announced today that it had received regulatory approval from the European Commission for its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Inc. Oracle expects unconditional approval from China and Russia and intends to close the transaction shortly.

Now I have some personal familiarity with a couple of acquisitions, one of which required approval by the Romanian government, but I've never personally run across an acquisition that was waiting for Chinese or Russian approval. Welcome to the new world.

Would the Chinese potentially hold up a deal that didn't involve the acquisition of a Chinese company? Uh, yeah:

Chinese regulators have been flexing their anti-monopoly muscle in deals by global companies, blocking Coca-Cola Co's proposed purchase of China Huiyuan Juice last March and placing conditions on approval of InBev's acquisition of Anheuser-Busch, and Panasonic's buy of Sanyo Electric.

And if you think that Oracle would pull a Google and just quit doing business in China, that could be an expensive proposition. I just heard on CBS this morning that China's economy is on target to exceed the U.S. economy by 2020.

At this stage, the most vocal opponent of the Oracle-Sun deal is Michael "Monty" Widenius, the initial creator of the MySQL database that Oracle would acquire if the acquisition went through. When I checked the statistics at his site, I found the following:

Łączna ilość potwierdzonych podpisów: 35 594
Podpisów w ciągu ostatnich 24 godzin: 2 034

Oops, I seem to have printed the Polish statistics. (The effort is understandably multi-lingual.) Suffice it to say that the first number indicates all responses to Widenius' call, and the second number indicates people who responded in the last 24 hours. And, perhaps more significantly, more than 4,000 of the 35,000+ respondents are from China, and over 1,300 are from Russia.

Not everyone is with Monty on this one. Here's part of what Marc Fleury said:

As for me, the bottom line is kind of straight forward, I don't get Monty. Or rather, I "get him" but completely disagree. MYSQL WAS SOLD FOR $1B FOR GADSAKES!!! IT WAS SOLD! IT'S OVER!

Which raises the question - why was it OK to sell to Sun, but not to Oracle? Or, more importantly, why was it OK to sell to Sun in the first place? In late December 2009, Widenius conducted a self-interview in which he responded to these and other questions.

Q: Didn't you sell MySQL to Sun? Do you want to have the cake and eat it too?

First a little background:

I started to work on a code that would later become MySQL in 1982. MySQL was released in 1995 under a dual licensing scheme that allowed David Axmark and me to very quickly work full time on developing MySQL.

I lost the rights to the MySQL copyright in 2001 when MySQL AB was created and we allowed investors to come in. We needed to bring in investors to be able to create a full-scale working company to satisfy big customers and to be able to hire more developers and take MySQL to the next stage. To ensure that MySQL would continue to be free, David and I stated in the shareholder agreement that MySQL AB would have to keep MySQL under an open source license. The problem with a shareholder agreement is that it is terminated when the company is sold. This is just how things works.

David and I however thought that this would not be a problem, as we would help ensure that MySQL would be bought by a good owner.

I continued to lead the MySQL project and have been one of the leaders and top contributors for the project since then.

When the sales process to Sun started, I was at the time not anymore in the MySQL Board (just a MySQL shareholder). I was just informed about the deal, after it was agreed to. I did get money for my shares, that is true, but it did not change in any way my dedication or involvement in the MySQL project.

Q: Was SUN a good owner?

Even though I had no say in the deal, I was happy because I thought that Sun, who has been one of the big advocates of open source, would be a good home for MySQL. MySQL was also the missing piece in Sun's software stack and as Sun didn't own any database competing with MySQL, it would be in Sun's interest to continue developing MySQL as an open source database.

This was proven right a couple of months later when the old MySQL management, who was still in charge of MySQL development, announced that they would now, (when they were not anymore bound by the shareholder agreement), add closed source addons to MySQL. Sun's upper management stepped in and forced MySQL's management to retract the statement.

After the Sun deal, I continued to work on MySQL and the Maria storage engine in Sun (in the CTO lab) and, together with Sun upper management, to help Sun be a driving force in open source. I also tried to get Sun to improve the MySQL development organization and change the MySQL development model to be more community friendly.

Q: You left SUN. Did you put pressure on SUN to be able to set up your own company?

The reason I left Sun was that after almost one year of trying, the MySQL development organization was still lacking vision, strategy and engineering excellence and it did not engage with the community.

Some of the developers did in addition not fit in a big publicly listed company and started to talk about leaving SUN.

To ensure we would not start to lose critical MySQL resources from the MySQL ecosystem and to ensure that MySQL would live on, I departed from Sun on good terms, with an understanding of what I needed to do and without any competition clauses.

I created Monty Program Ab and continued to work on a branch of MySQL, now under the name of MariaDB, together with the community and the core MySQL developers that left Sun. We are now 19 persons in Monty Program Ab and all totally dedicated to keep MySQL alive.

There is a ton of stuff that could be written about this topic, but it appears to me that Widenius is having an emotional reaction to big evil Oracle taking over his baby. Not dissimilar to the reaction that some people had when Facebook bought FriendFeed, when you think about it.

Of course, there is a solution that Widenius does not seem to have mentioned. He could initiate a counter-offer to purchase the MySQL-related assets from Sun.

Bidding starts at $1 billion.
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