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Oracle to Get Sun, EU Clears the Way [UPDATE]

The European Commission has finally signed off on the deal that will have Oracle (ORCL) acquire Sun (JAVA). The hitch all along had been the future of MySQL, the open source database originally developed by Monty Widenius and David Axmark in the mid-1990s.

Although many, including myself, have seen the Oracle acquisition as a last chance for Sun to avoid going down the tubes, a number of forces in Europe have opposed the deal. Rumor had it that SAP was one of them. An advisor to Widenius, Florian Mueller (and, presumably, Widenius himself) had been part of a PR campaign to get the EU to force Sun to give up MySQL, letting it be picked up by some other entity. This, in turn, had sparked some resentment and criticism, evidenced on some online comments I've seen, by people still angry that MySQL was ever sold to Sun in the first place.

You can make your own guesses as to why they were opposing the transaction. I asked Mueller outright at one point whether he was working with any group angling to pick MySQL up from Sun. He said no. Perhaps this was all an issue of principle, or perhaps of animus toward Oracle, as the MySQL people had been competitors. For some time, Widenius and Axmark had worked at Sun. The latter left in October 2008, and Widenius moved on last February because of dissatisfaction with what the company was doing with MySQL.

On one hand, the issues that Widenius and others have had with Sun or Oracle are moot. But they show some of the things that come up when company founders manage to sell the business off. There still may be a strong desire to see their initial direction followed through, even though it's no longer "their" baby. Widenius has a new company, Monty Program Ab, that is an open source software development firm working on a MySQL variant called Maria.

[I just heard from Mueller, who noted "Oracle still needs clearance from the Chinese and Russian antitrust authorities and it's a matter of respect not to consider this process finished until those major jurisdictions have also taken and announced their decisions. <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->

The EC's reasoning has to be reviewed when all the details of the decision are known but based on the EC's press release it seems to be a decision based on wishful thinking for the future more so than anything else. PostgreSQL has been around for decades without having had its mainstream breakthrough, so the EC can't seriously claim that PostgreSQL could replace MySQL as a competitive force. Forks (derived works based on an existing open source project) are a legal possibility but there's no reason to assume that any MySQL fork, or even a number of such forks collectively, could threaten Oracle to the extent that MySQL could. And finally, Oracle's promises are not legally binding per se and even if they were, they wouldn't have any noteworthy pro-competitive effect. I can't think of a single bad thing, short of discontinuing the product immediately, that Oracle couldn't do while still complying fully with those promises in a legal sense.

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So I believe the EC's decision is the wrong one, it's not based on hard facts that would have come up after the EC issued its Statement of Objections, it may not be upheld in the event of an appeal and it should not serve as the basis for decisions taken by other regulators because it would set an awful precedent for merger control in connection with open source and a variety of other IT business models."]

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