Oracle’s Acquisition of Sun: Could They Damage Open Source?
Open source questions
Jan. 29, 2010 01:30 PM
MySQL Journal on Ulitzer
Open source software, in brief, is software that is distributed under a specific type of license. Open source licenses attempt to ensure the code is freely distributed. The vision is of large communities of developers and users who both give and get software code freely. Note that this does not mean the code can't be "owned" per se, it just means that it has to be distributed without cost.
Open source software has become an underpinning of most businesses. It also touches most consumer products. If you spend any time at all browsing the Web, you have most definitely touched a wide range of open source components. If your business uses any Web-based applications, they are likely to be composed in part from open source components.
And there's the rub. When they acquired Sun, Oracle received ownership of the MySQL database. In their e-mail blast today , they mentioned MySQL two different times -- pretty significant real estate to give to just one product. They specifically mentioned MySQL in a sentence about product investment, almost as if to say, "We're going to be investing this, you soon may have to as well."
They didn't come out and say that, but it's certainly possible. If they did begin to charge for MySQL it would mean many companies would have to pay fees they never expected. Many customers could be faced with pricing increases they didn't expect. Some products might cease altogether.
Along these same lines, Google recently patented what's referred to as their "map-reduce" technology, which has open source derivatives that are widely used in larger organizations. There has been speculation that Google could start attaching a fee to this technology as well.
Charging for what was once a free product in itself is damaging. The real damage, though, would be to the vision of open source in general; a vision which most would agree has been incredibly successful.
Going forward, before adopting any open source product, a business would first have to assess the risk of that adoption incurring some future cost. Because businesses are so dependent on open source products and tools, I think it would be harmful to start packaging heightened suspicion into the otherwise utopian mix.
I hope Oracle makes a good choice with MySQL.
This was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal Gadget Cube.