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MySQL Speaks & Gives Itself a Black Eye
Monday, October 10 2005 @ 03:58 PM EDT

MySQL's CEO, Marten Mickos, finally answers critics of its new partnership with SCO:
"We thought about the deal for a long time and we thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "We want to serve customers irrespective of their platform." Business reasons were a driver for the deal, but Mr Mickos also appears to be following the advice of The Art of War author, Sun Tzu: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

"In a partnership you exchange thoughts," he said. "If you exchange thoughts hopefully the other side will listen to you. We understand people get upset, but it doesn't help to just close them out and despise them, it doesn't help at all. We don't want to be the judge. We want to be the doctor. If we can provide the cure, great. . . .

"They used to say the GPL was unconstitutional, maybe with working with us they have proved that it is not unconstitutional," said Mr Mickos.

Um. Sputter. Huh? MySQL will accomplish that? Well, what do you know? And here I thought IBM carried that burden of establishing the constitutionality of the GPL, that enormous financial burden, with a lot of help from the worldwide FOSS community, and some hints from Groklaw's GPL Summer School. And P.S., we accomplished it already, without any help from MySQL.

They may have thought about the deal for a long time, but they don't seem to have followed the case very closely, or they'd know SCO dropped that claim a long time ago. And may I ask what is wrong about judging bad behavior?

I don't think MySQL knows SCO like we do, or they'd never imagine SCO will reform. I'm sorry, but that excuse doesn't pass my laugh test. This MySQL statement is profoundly offensive. Here's the translation inside my head: "We wanted to make some money, honey. And we don't sell Linux, so what do we care?" Had they just said they did it for business reasons, I'd probably have shrugged it off, actually. Not that I like anyone helping SCO attack Linux, directly or indirectly. I didn't like Microsoft and Sun paying them millions, because it helped them pay Boies Schiller to attack Linux via litigation against IBM and Novell and DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone. Look at all the financial damage they have done, by forcing these companies to defend themselves from the unwarranted attacks. Shall we justify that by saying it is important to support customers?

To spin it as MySQL has, that they are on some kind of educational ninja mission, is hypocritical. It also means to me that MySQL isn't really grokking what FOSS is about, or what SCO hoped to do to Linux and the GPL. That is important to know about them, don't you think?

The good news is that education can happen to anyone, and evidently the community reaction is helping MySQL to become better educated itself. The fact that they felt they had to issue this statement tells me they are aware that the community is not happy with them. At first, they issued no statements and wouldn't answer any questions. I believe they thought that if they could avoid saying anything, it would all die down. This statement tells me that it has not died down.

People judge a business by more than just their code, you know. We have to feel we can trust you to want to use your products. Microsoft is feeling that truth more and more, despite its monopoly muscle, and surely SCO has discovered this simple, human truth. MySQL has marked itself now, given itself a black eye, and I feel sure they will continue to feel the effects, unfortunately.

Businessmen are very smart, generally speaking, but one thing few of them understand: when it comes to FOSS, if you upset the community by violating its values, it will affect your business. It's not that boycotts are organized or anything simple like that. It's that decisions on what software a business should use are generally profoundly influenced by the geeks working there, and if they don't like your behavior, or your product, when the PHB asks them what to buy, they don't recommend your company.

Caldera learned that lesson, not that they connected the dots. That company absolutely never connects any obvious dots about GNU/Linux, not in any of its iterations. Caldera wasn't able to make a profitable business from GNU/Linux, but Red Hat was. What is the difference? Trust. Red Hat has a good record, overall, of respecting the GPL and FOSS values. If that changes, they'll do the dodo bird dance too. Caldera always tried to make the GPL stretch a little too far for comfort, and the community reacted accordingly. It was not organized. It was a natural reaction to Caldera not behaving in ways the community thinks are important. IBM grasps that, the need to respect the ethics and values of the culture that comes with GNU/Linux and particularly with the GPL, and they have behaved appropriately.

That is the secret to their support from the community, which has translated into serious money made from GNU/Linux, and it's something any business can tap into. Or out of.


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