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EU right to investigate Oracle's MySQL buy

The European Union is justifiably investigating whether Oracle's proposed purchase of Sun -- and its subsidiary MySQL -- will lead to reduced competition and higher prices in the database market.Of course it will, and that's part of the reason European regulators are taking a hard look at it.
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Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor on

The European Union is justifiably investigating whether Oracle's proposed purchase of Sun -- and its subsidiary MySQL -- will lead to reduced competition and higher prices in the database market.

Of course it will, and that's part of the reason European regulators are taking a hard look at it. MySQL AB, after all, was originally founded and developed in Sweden and Germany's SAP (along with Microsoft) is urging the EU to get involved after US regulators swiftly approved it without scrutinizing the impact on the database market.

Politics aside, it seems obvious that Oracle's purchase of MySQL (or a Microsoft buy of MySQL) will lead to higher prices in the database market. One of the core benefits of open source software is that it lacks license fees; its availability in any software market leads to reduced software pricing, and reduces the barrier of entry for customers.

I and others have grown concerned about the increasing number of proprietary software software giants gobbling up open source companies. And I've wondered why many of the deals get speedy approval without a harder look at the underlying motive -- vendors' wish to stop budding open source rivals and protect their margins. Conspirary theorists might think that Sun bought mySQL at Oracle's behest, as a requirement for Oracle's ultimate purchase of Sun.

It's understandable that the US government is hesitant to interfere in business these days lest it slow the economic recovery. And there are many who believe that "free" software undermines the value of intellectual property.

Nevertheless, US regulators should have analyzed the database angle. For its part, the Department of justice focused its investigation on the impact of the deal on Java. But it had to be obvious to those involved that Oracle had other reasons for picking up Sun.

Playing dumb does little to improve the credibility of the antitrust agency and even less to further the evolving software business model. Perhaps the government could have imposed some requirements on Oracle (like it did on Microsoft) to protect the MySQL code, its future and installed base of customers. ignoring it was a mistake.

Some proprietary-open source mergers are healthy for competition. Novell's purchase of SUSE and evolution to the Linux business model is a good example. But Oracle's purchase of MySQL? I think not.

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