Posted by: Sarah Lacy on November 1, 2005
Back in September, when an audience of 10,000 crammed into San Francisco’s Moscone Center to hear what bad boy CEO Larry Ellison had to say, he was at his most congenial. But he did have snippy words for open source. When asked if he was worried about competitor MySQL following in Linux’s footsteps, he quipped that Linux only gained popularity among CIOs because of the backing of Oracle, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the like. He argued that MySQL doesn’t have that kind of support and shrugged that Oracle never sees them competitively in the market.
That’s partly true.
MySQL does have some corporate support—most notably from Oracle arch rival SAP. But Oracle likely hasn’t seen them much in the enterprise market, because until now MySQL didn’t really have a robust product suitable for big companies. That changed on Oct. 24, when the company finally released its version 5.0—the culmination of a two-and-a-half year engineering effort and according to the company the most important release in the last ten years. “This is our answer to people who’ve called MySQL a toy application,” said MySQL’s Zack Urlocker.
Yesterday, Oracle launched a volley in the opposite direction: A scaled down, free version of its database. Is it a reaction to MySQL’s growing success? Yes and no. Oracle spokespeople said so unequivocally in this CNET story. But later when I talked to Willie Hardie, vice president of marketing for Oracle’s database, he downplayed it.
The battle here isn’t really over small businesses who want free databases; it’s over developers. Since MySQL can be downloaded for free, it was building a formidable base of in house coders and hobbyists who downloaded the database, played with it, and built applications on top of it. The last thing Oracle needs is more coders who know the ins and outs of MySQL, and not Oracle. With this release, Oracle is effectively saying, “Hey, developers! Us too!”
Tellingly, Hardie mentioned universities a few times. A big argument open source boosters make is that students are learning on open source and those students are tomorrow’s corporate IT departments.
For MySQL’s part, chief executive Marten Mickos pooh-poohed the scaled down version as a “lite” product, saying “most users are looking for complete, full-featured database products…not handicapped trial versions.” He added, “It is unfortunate that Oracle didn’t take the opportunity to open source this new product.” Elsewhere in open source land there was more of a “too-little-too-late” reaction to the news.
That is, after all, a key difference. And many of MySQL’s developers are open source loyalists. They’re not going to just shrug and switch to Oracle, just because it’s free and the market leader, particularly now that MySQL has a product that can scale up. If you want to scale up with Oracle, you’ll still have to pay.