01.29.08

Putting the Eggs in More Than One Basket

Posted in Database, GNU/Linux, KDE, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Virtualisation, Xen at 4:01 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Diverse markets are harder to ‘hijack’

In our previous posts about Trolltech and Nokia [1, 2] we mentioned a strategy where one company strives to defeat another by acquiring smaller companies/software which it depends on. This brought back memories of the Citrix-XenSource acquisition from which Microsoft gains a lot, but it’s unlikely to be the case when it comes to Sun Microsystems and MySQL. Oracle is in no solid relationship with Microsoft (unlike Sun), but MySQL is less of a risk to Sun or even to SQL Server.

Taking some of these recent deals into account, Glyn Moody published a somewhat euphoric article in Linux Journal.

Ever since Red Hat bought Jboss for $420 million in April 2006, MySQL was clearly the leader of the rest of the business open source pack. It is used by many high-profile sites – including Google – as well as the vast majority of the main Web 2.0 startups to do the backend heavy lifting. It might not be in the Oracle class, but as Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma teaches us, relentless technological progress tends to mean that the underpowered underdog eventually becomes good enough for the vast majority of users, while the overpowered top dog – Oracle in this case – finds itself innovating for the sake of innovating, and adding ever-more features that nobody uses. This makes MySQL the GNU/Linux of the database world.

[...]

I certainly don’t have any answers to these questions, but I do believe that people need to start thinking about them seriously. I fear we don’t have much time before the knock-on effects of Sun’s move begin to make themselves felt: Nokia’s announcement that it hopes to acquire Trolltech, although not directly related, is nonetheless part of the same broader trend. And once a domino-like ripple of acquisitions starts to pass through the open source world, it will probably be too late to do much about it anyway.

Many of us are still very happy for those companies that received a lot of money from the Giants. It is hard to criticise a free/open source company for being successful financially. However, many of us apparently fail or refuse to see the long-term impact. Wouldn’t MySQL have been better off with an IPO? This was truly expected, at least based on an interview with Matt Aslett and various magazines that pondered or questioned the CEO on this matter.

In a short correspondence with Glyn Moody he told us: “I think this is a case where we’ll have to let the facts speak for themselves. I hope that Nokia becomes more “infected” with open source values; but you’re right that they’ve made some mistakes in the past, and if they carry on in that vein we’ve got big problems.

“Microsoft wants to lock up all Linux users in a single cage (e.g. Novell) and then eliminate the single encompassing company…”On the positive side of things, new free/open source companies are born every day. At the beginning of this year we saw plenty of funds going to Automattic (WordPress), Alfresco and others. Last year we witnessed the birth of a startup which capitalises on its baby Drupal. It received a 9-million-dollar investment. It’s not as though we are ‘running out’ of companies, but let us keep an eye open.

In a sense, the same principles apply to Linux companies that sign patent deals with Microsoft. At least 8 of them have done this so far, but there are practically hundreds of companies that sell Linux products and many thousands (maybe millions) that use GNU/Linux. Microsoft wants to lock up all Linux users in a single cage (e.g. Novell) and then eliminate the single encompassing company (or a small set of companies), thereby hurting everyone at once. But the Linux market is too diverse to allow this to happen, so there is hardly a reason to be worried.

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