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Groklaw Interviews MySQL AB CEO Marten Mickos
Wednesday, October 12 2005 @ 12:04 AM EDT

I had an opportunity to do an email interview with MySQL AB's CEO Marten Mickos this afternoon, and I learned some interesting things. I tried to ask the questions I thought you would want someone to ask, based on reading your comments and email. What stood out to me in his answers was the following:
  • no money went to SCO from MySQL, so MySQL is not supporting SCO financially
  • it was SCO seeking out the partnership, not the other way around
  • MySQL had stopped supporting SCO in 2004
  • MySQL did not put out the press release about the partnership. Mickos did provide a quotation for the press release however. Here's the press release in question, taken from MySQL's web site.

While Mickos portrays the deal as perhaps indicating SCO is softening toward Open Source, this is by no means the first time SCO has introduced FOSS applications, including GPLd applications, into its products. They didn't alter course as a result. Perhaps you recall the incident with Fyodor in 2004. And if you look at the ingredients of their latest offering, you find FOSS holding the SCO globe on its shoulders, a fact the media has taken note of. So Marten's optimistic interpretation that SCO approaching them means they possibly are softening on the GPL issue, or may in the future, is, in my view, precisely that, optimistic, at best. Of course, if SCO would like to surprise us by apologizing to Linus and the Linux community and promise to change its ways from this day forward, that would alter my opinion, but I'm not holding my breath. I think it's more likely SCO wanted MySQL to resume support, for their own business survival.

The partnership, according to eWeek, involves the commercial version of MySQL, not the GPL community one:

Although SCO Group Inc. is known for its IP (intellectual property) battles with IBM and Linux-related companies, the company has long used open-source programs in its operating systems.

OpenServer 6 already includes the Apache Web server, the Apache Tomcat JSP (Java Server Pages) server, the PostgreSQL DBMS and the MySQL Community Edition.

Since OpenServer 6 already supports the open-source version of MySQL, supporting the commercial version of MySQL should be a trivial technical operation.

In what way, then, would SCO partnering with MySQL mean they are softening toward the GPL? I asked Marten about that, and here's his answer: "It is a 'commercial' product in the same sense as Red Hat Network is. So it *is* based on GPL, but the subscription service is commercial."

I went to read a MySQL AB "Dispelling the Myths" page, and here is what they say about that issue:

MySQL Myth #6: “MySQL isn’t open source any more”

The truth: MySQL AB remains fully committed to open source. and is an active member of the open source community.

Because MySQL offers a dual-licensing model, some have claimed that MySQL isn’t truly open source. Such a claim is simply false as MySQL AB continues to fully make available its database server and ancillary components (connectors, GUI tools, etc.) in GPL form. Non-GPL open source projects that wish to link with MySQL client code can also do so, utilizing the MySQL FLOSS Licensing Exception (http://www.mysql.com/company/legal/licensing/foss-exception.html). For those wishing to embed MySQL within a closed source application distributed in the market, non-GPL (commercial) licenses are also available.

MySQL is an active member of the open source community and a leader in the fight against software patents (see http://nosoftwarepatents.com/). External contributions from the open source community to MySQL are most welcome. Note that for the dual licensing business model to work, assignment of copyright is required if the submission is larger than a small bug-fix.

That isn't precisely what Red Hat does, as I understand it. As far as I can see, Red Hat Network is under the GPL, although the services are provided under a EULA.

One thing I think you'll agree: he answered all my questions honestly. Honesty is always refreshing, and he knew going in, because I was honest too, that I don't share his views in all particulars. With that introduction, here is the interview with Marten Mickos, so you can reach your own conclusions.

***********************

Groklaw: Some were offended by your public comments about your partnership with SCO. Were your comments inaccurately reported?

Mickos: Those are not my exact words but the thinking is correctly reported:

- we do want to serve all possible end-customers in the world

- we do think that by having an active dialogue you can accomplish more than by refusing contact

- we do think that the fact that SCO actively sought partnership with us might be a sign that they are ready to accept and embrace open source as a great thing

Groklaw: There has reportedly been VC money to MySQL recently. Where is the money from and did it influence your decision? Some wonder if Microsoft is at it again, funneling help to SCO via back doors, as they did in the PIPE money from BayStar.

Mickos: We brought in VC money last time in May 2003 - from Benchmark Capital and Index Ventures. No MSFT money then and no MSFT money now. [PJ: Here's the press release about the funding.]

Our VCs did not influence our decision to strike a deal with SCO.

Groklaw: You portray this as a business decision, but since SCO has very little business and it continues to decline, some are skeptical. What benefit is there to MySQL from this deal?

Mickos: I cannot disclose the details of the deal. I can tell you that the deal produces revenue to us.

And what do we do with revenue? We hire developers who produce GPL code. I don't want to sound hypocritical, but every penny that comes in the door contributes to our ability to produce more free and open source software.

Groklaw: I don't think anyone feels at all bothered by you supporting their customers. Most in the community believe in that, as do I. But why put out a press release with them about a partnership? It gave the appearance of supporting them as a company. Why does supporting customers require a partnership?

Mickos: We do not know the SCO customers directly, so SCO is our channel to the customers. It was (and is) in our interest to make those customers aware of the fact that they can now get MySQL on SCO with full support.

Database customers typically want to be assured that the channel (SCO in this case) is authorised and equipped to serve the customers. That's why we think "partnership" is a relevant term. DELL, HP, and Novell are also partners in this regard.

The actual press release was issued by SCO so the precise wording came from them. We did not issue a press release. [PJ: I followed up with a followup question, which elicited the information that Mickos did send them the quotation you find in the press release, so it wasn't the case that SCO issued the release without MySQL participation.]

Groklaw: Do you really believe that a partnership with you can alter SCO's course or way of thinking?

Mickos: Call me an optimist, but I do. I personally happen to disagree with SCO's action in relation to the lawsuits (such as initiating them in the first place).

But I also know that many of the people working for SCO are good people with good intentions. If I can help them build a real business that brings them even closer to their customers, then I believe that the mere presence of all that day-to-day business may influence the way they think about things. And even if our influence is only minimal, it is more than zero.

But note, also, that we don't specifically see it as our mandate to try to influence SCO through the partnership. If they ask for our viewpoints, we give them. And we did the deal primarily for business reasons, not because we would think we should or could influence them. So the influencing part is an add-on thing.

Make sense?

Groklaw: What is MySQL's position on the SCO litigation strategy, its attacks on Linux and Linus personally?

Mickos: As a company, we do not have a position on other companies' strategies. Our mandate as a company is to serve customers and thereby bring wealth to our owners, and that's it.

But in our conduct with other companies and organisations we do try to convey our philosophy and our corporate values. We think that by doing this, others will know what to expect from us. And if someone says or thinks "I like your style and I will adopt some of it" then we think that on a human scale we have accomplished even more.

If you are interested in our values, here is how I describe them:

- Care
- Performance
- Integrity
- Simplicity
- Freedom

The following text is from an internal pamphlet I am working on:

CARE

This value is the “we” thinking of our organisation – the spirit of MySQL, without which we would have no dreams and no joy.

First and foremost we care about each other – about the MySQL employees. This is not because we would be self-centric. It is because we think this is the best way to be able to serve customers and shareholders. If our employees are taken well care of and are given demanding challenges and expected to live up to them, everyone will benefit. “Care” does not mean pampering. It means offering a stimulating work environment where members of the team can together develop, thrive and reach self-actualisation. It is about providing positive feedback and about celebrating success. When that happens, all the rest is easy!

PERFORMANCE

The performance value has its roots in the thinking of our founders. Monty and David from the start had an absolute devotion to creating the fastest possible software. They architected MySQL to have high performance - and that's what MySQL to a large extent is famous for. But it was not only performance in the sense of throughput in the database. It was also performance in the sense of low latency, and in the sense of powerful commands that saved the developer's or user's time. For instance, establishing and cutting a connection to the database server is very fast. And it is also performance in the sense of getting the work done in a timely fashion.

INTEGRITY

Integrity is something the world would need more of. If every human being had uncompromised integrity, we might perhaps have the same amount of conflict in the world, but we would have much less of cruelty, disappointment, resentment and bitterness.

SIMPLICITY

The simplicity value is perhaps the least obvious one. Why is it important to strive for simplicity? Aren't there situations where complexity is needed and justified? For us, the answer is no. We have chosen a business model and an operational model in which we take complex issues and package them simplistically.

We relentlessly look for simplicity, but not just any simplicity. We seek the “simplicity on the far side of complexity”. This is the clarity you reach when you have thoroughly studied and understood the complex issue at hand. When that happens, you can create an abstraction layer which for your users and customers is simple although it is built on top of a complex issue. Or to borrow Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is reached not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.”

FREEDOM

Last but not least, the word freedom guides all actions we take. We are proponents of the freedom of software (as defined by the Free Software Foundation), and we are proponents of free markets and free competition in global markets.

On another plane, we have a desire to have freedom of thought and freedom of mind. We ask ourselves Why? and we ask Why Not? There are many wheels that already have been invented, and there is no use in reinventing them. But many other wheels are either outdated or have not been invented yet. This is where freedom of mind is useful. It allows us to find new solutions to problems old and new, and it allows us to build new types of technology and new types of business. It is the notion of focusing on opportunities rather than problems. This is what sets us apart from all our competitors.

Groklaw: Did you consider the feelings of the FOSS community, that supporting SCO financially enables them to persist in their course?

Mickos: Yes, we definitely considered the feelings of the FOSS community. We had a fairly long internal discussion. We also have a principle that our role is to "serve" more than to "please". We anticipated that some would be upset by this, but we were convinced that we were doing the right thing (serving) and that some day, and seen in a broader context, most people would respect our decision.

Note that we are NOT supporting SCO financially.

Groklaw: Since freedom is one of your core values, do you recognize that SCO's litigation strategy, had it been successful, would have reduced all FOSS users' freedoms? They are, after all, attacking not just Linux but the Open Source development method and the GPL. And if you do recognize that, why does it make sense to help them in any way, until the struggle is over?

Martens: Here is my logic.

FOSS is a high priority, but law and order even higher. So if SCO would win in court, then I would respect the court's ruling.

Groklaw: Your answer indicates you give credence to their claims. Is that correct?

Mickos: I don't give credence to their claims, but in the unlikely event a court of law would judge in their favour, I would have to respect that, wouldn't I?

Groklaw: My question had more to do with the question some ask, whether it is moral to help them fund the fight or help their image in any way, which also helps them fund the litigation.

Mickos: We are not funding their fight.

If we help their image, then I am flattered.

If you are implying that helping their image will influence the courts, then it may indicate that you don't really respect the objectivity of the courts, or? NOTE: I don't want to sound offensive and I am not accusing you of anything. I just try to demonstrate that I believe that we must see "image" as having no influence on the legal proceedings. And if that is so, then helping their image is not a bad thing to do. But then I also believe that you can't really help someone's image unless there is something good in it from the start.

Groklaw: I gather from your answer to another question that you are not paying them; they are paying you instead.

Mickos: Right.


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