Eben Moglen’s neutron bomb therory of MySQL has some flaws

In a letter to the European Commission defending the Oracle acquisition of MySQL, Eben Moglen makes the following argument.

30. . . . Whether or not MySQL is a significant “competitive constraint” on the selling of Oracle 11, MySQL is an effective, indeed potentially lethal competitor for the much less powerful Microsoft product. For Sun, and a fortiori for Oracle, the rather scant dual-license revenue available from MySQL, or the long-term negative consequences from competition between MySQL and the top-drawer product line, must be significantly outweighed by the value of GPL’d MySQL, available at near-zero price, as a formidable competitor against Microsoft’s only database offering.

39. For these and other reasons, a decision by Oracle to keep MySQL nominally alive as an Oracle product but to actively discourage commons co-development is likely to fail. It would require investments, produce little revenue, abandon an opportunity to cause disproportionate competitive harm to Microsoft, and it would irreparably damage Oracle’s standing with the free and open source software communities on which it will be inclined to cooperate over other assets, including OpenOffice, OpenSolaris, and Java, which it has acquired from Sun Microsystems and in which it is also already significantly invested. Such a course is therefore neither rational nor likely to be successful, and I think it is reasonable to predict that it is not going to be tried.

Moglen effectively minimizes the notion that MySQL competes with the Oracle database offering, but sees MySQL as sort of a neutron bomb that will destroy Microsoft, while leaving Oracle intact, while Oracle continues to charge super high prices for its services.

The problems with Moglen’s neutron bomb theory are obvious. Microsoft is already an effective and aggressive competitor to Oracle. To the extent that MySQL influences Microsoft, it will be in the short run to exert downward prices on the Microsoft product, which puts even more pressure on the Oracle’s pricing. If eventually MySQL can replace Microsoft’s as a free alternative doing what Microsoft does now, this can only put even more pressure on Oracle’s pricing.

In the view of KEI, if the government relations and sales departments of Oracle and Microsoft were not as politically powerful* as they are today, the U.S. government would already be mitigating many database services to free software platforms, including services that use MySQL. If MySQL is owned by a company that has a sales force issuing FUD against MySQL, it can’t be good for the future of MySQL.

In the end, Moglen’s defense of Oracle comes down to the claim that Oracle can’t harm MySQL users, even though it owns the MySQL company.

If the GPL license itself is as effective in protecting the public from anticompetitive conduct as Moglen asserts, then why would anyone ever bother to acquire MySQL? Why is MySQL, a unit with less than 100 employees and “scant revenue,” a deal breaker for Oracle?

* Why do 59 U.S. Senators write a letter defending the acquisition of MySQL?