In a recent column I suggested that Oracles acquisition of Innobase might be a sign that Oracle was gearing up to support MySQL. Of course several people took issue with that perspective. One reader even suggested I was on crack.
Now comes the announcement that Oracle plans to release Oracle Database 10g Express Edition, a free (as in of charge) version of its popular database. This only confirms the fears of those that thought I was a bit whacked to make such an outrageous statement. Of course Oracle wants to kill open source as do all evil software empires.
I believe we as individuals have our own frames of reference: Some may call it a worldview that shapes our opinions, beliefs and behaviors. When large groups of people that share some aspect of a worldview are identified, marketing types refer to you as a market. Of course there are thousands of markets and millions of worldviews. Thats why GM sells Chevrolets and Cadillacs. Thats why some buy their jeans at the Gap instead of Wal*Mart even when the manufacturer is the same.
It cannot be denied that Oracle is a very good marketing company. Yes I know they sell software, but marketing is their real strength. They have been the best company at telling a story about scalability, such as when they introduced the concept of lock versioning. That simple concept fit well with a shared worldview that locking was the reason why relational databases could not scale. Was it true? Well there was no definitive evidence that lock versioning made Oracles database anymore scalable than any other database. It didnt matter however because it struck a chord.
When they essentially relaunched Oracle Parallel Server and called it Real Application Clusters, it was a hit because they now had a real story that fit with many individuals worldview. That being to run a scalable database (Oracle had already established that view) on low cost commodity hardware that runs an inexpensive operating system. Now RAC is hot: It has “crossed the chasm” as they say in the marketing world, yet there is much evidence that most people dont even need it.
We should understand that in this day of one-to-one marketing where you search the Web with Google and it provides advertisements in context to the users current interest, that there are many worldviews and therefore many markets. Oracle understands it. That is why offering Oracle Database 10g Express Edition and acquiring Innobase are not mutually exclusive.
Indeed. When IBM got behind Linux, many people assumed that they had given up on AIX. Conventional wisdom being that you cant have two competing products especially when one is free or nearly free. Well how did that turn out for IBM? Last I checked, they were doing quite well selling hardware with both operating systems, their biggest rival (Sun Microsystems) has been in a five-year decline, and AIX has moved up from a distant third in Unix market share to take the overall lead in the proprietary Unix market.
Now many of us hold a worldview that open source software is the wave of the future. That free and open distribution without limits is the best way to avoid the scum sucking software companies and their intolerable licensing schemes and forced upgrades. Still others believe that having a true business entity standing behind the software that has an economic motivation to work on new features and functions, provide indemnity and support is the only way to mitigate risk for an organization.
Now Oracle Database 10g Express Edition is free to use but it is not open source. Some will embrace this as a great thing, a database brand I have heard of that is affordable for the individual to use. Others will see it as a way to undercut the open source movement by assuming that people only care about price. That this move coupled with Oracles ownership of MySQLs most popular transactional table handler (INNODB) will provide them with the weapons they need to destroy MySQL. Have we learned nothing?
If price were the only factor then everyone would buy hamburgers at McDonalds, and Red Robin, which serves “gourmet” hamburgers, wouldnt exist. In fact in the restaurant business its common to see a company to own several different brands and open one of each within close proximity to each other. Why should we assume things are different in the software business? How many companies own more than one database today? How many users within your organization make decisions on a daily basis that impact the choice of the underlying database? My guess is there are many so a smart software company needs to have several brands.
Open source appeals to a large and growing worldview. This will not change. Some (like Microsoft) continue the good fight but they cannot succeed unless they can change the worldview regarding open source. Highly unlikely. So the smart company will position itself to take advantage of the reality that multiple worldviews exist. Even within a single organization. In my worldview, all of this simply means that more people than ever will be using relational databases and for a guy that makes a living covering that market, its all good.
Disclosure: Charles Garry was one of a number of experts hired by Oracle in the summer after the company solicited a competitive overview. In the course of that overview he recommended that Oracle offer a free database edition aimed at developers and knowledge workers.