15 October 2005

Daniel Lyons within hailing distance of reality again

Link? For this loser? He can drum up his own hits, thank you. Consider this snippet from his article:

If that [Oracle buying Innobase, on which certain of MySQL’s more advanced features currently depend] wasn’t bad enough, Mickos is being denounced as a traitor by noisy fanatics in the open source software community because last month he dared to make a deal with SCO Group, a company reviled by fans of Linux and other open source software.

Open source programs are made available with their source code, or basic underlying instructions, available for anyone to read, modify or copy. Traditional software, like that sold by Microsoft, ships with the source code kept secret.

For die-hard open-source zealots, this difference is not just a matter of personal preference or technical advantage; it’s a holy war. And SCO is the Great Satan.

That’s because in 2003 SCO sued IBM, claiming the company took code from Unix, for which SCO holds some copyrights, and put it into Linux, which is distributed for free.

That’s quite a collection of dodgy debating tactics in a very few short words!

Let’s start with the more obvious loaded words and consequent association: “noisy fanatics”, “fans” (a contraction of “fanatics”), “zealots”, “holy war”, “Great Satan” — these are all applied to supporters of Open Source, one way or another. I’m surprised he didn’t borrow “rabble” for the occasion, which WordNet defines as a “disparaging term for the common people”.

Daniel is posing this conflict as between the irrational and unreasonable rabble (who often succeed at things in ways he fails to understand, and apparently resents), and the rational, reasonable decisions of MySQL AB, “traditional” (implying conservative, safe, prudent and rational) software vendors such as Microsoft (why Microsoft? they’re a poor example because most people only know then as the stuff that arrives on their machine or the stuff installed for free by their friend/cousin/neighbour rather than through traditional sales venues) and of course his friends, those outstanding businessmen, The SCO Group (SCOX).

Just in case y’all’ve been living under a rock for the last two and a bit years, SCOX tried to “sell the Brooklyn Bridge” to IBM, staking a court claim for ownership of “UNIX” in the absence of any trademarks (which are owned in trust by The Open Group), copyrights, patents, trade secrets directly relating to any kind of UNIX at all. In the process, they’ve managed to annoy everyone else involved in the case, even their own lawyers; the total number of lies, misdirections, half-truths and completely wild claims they’ve presented so far has been astounding. Unsurprisingly in retrospect, Mr Lyons supported them at the time and continues to regard them as having some kind of real case even today.

[MySQL] dared to make a deal with SCO Group

Note the loaded word again, “dared” — the implication being “MySQL the underdog defies the presumptuous authority of the Open Source oppressors! Film at eleven!”. There’s many more rhetorical tricks in that text, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Something important which Mr Lyons fails to so much as hint at anywhere in his article is that MySQL-the-software is not exactly Open Source. The licencing is... different.

That by itself is not a problem, and in my ever so humble opinion I think it’s an excellent thing that MySQL AB try out different ways of making money tangential to a pure Open Source licence.

The problem is manifold, but the core of it is that SCOX’s greedy, reckless and clumsy blackmail attempt has hurt a lot of people, notably companies who dealt with SCOX and/or their predecessors-in-interest, and has started at insulting only to head downhill from there in the perspective of any contributor to the Linux kernel. And from the horse’s mouth, the entire reason for it all was money. Darl MacBride wanted to mimic the bottled-water marketeers, who take water costing maybe 0.5 cents a litre and flog half-litre bottles of it for $2.50. He wanted to bolt his own mandatory, inescapable fee onto other people’s work and property, Linux — a free ride, get-rich-quick scheme, but the point was that he did it for money — and now here comes MySQL AB partnering with SCOX. Why?

Well... knowing Mr Lyons, he could have posted this out of context or out of order, but quoting Mr Mickos from the article:

“SCO has a huge installed base in the retail space. And heck, those guys need a good database. So why should we not do the deal? [...] We’re making money at this [...] I think every single company is in the business of making money.”

Every for-profit company, anyway, but deploying the Capitalist Mantra as a defence doesn’t absolve MySQL AB either from having a conscience or being sensitive to the perceptions of a large part of their existing customer base.

MySQL AB didn’t need to partner with SCOX in order to be able to service SCOX’s customer base. They have, after all, shipped OpenServer and UnixWare binaries before, without a partnership.

One of the justifications we’ve heard is that SCOX’s customers don’t like having to compile from source, yet in the same breath we’re told that there are already two million of them. Given the state of SCOX’s software package management, their customers are probably well-accustomed to hardship.

It seems obvious that SCOX held out a glittering carrot before the MySQL AB donkey, and MySQL bit. SCOX must be happy, they need as many friends as they can buy. Now comes the fallout.

In summary, while I can’t speak for other Open Source advocates, the general picture is not one of Open Source people turning against one of “their own”, but one of a business staking a claim in Open Source with one hand, and signing a partnership to another Open-Source-hostile business with the other.

Worse, until they signed this partnership, MySQL AB were not particularly vulnerable to lawsuit from SCOX (all of SCOX’s suits have been against businesses with an established relationship), but now they are. It looks like they’ve failed to do due diligence before reaching for the aforesaid carrot, and failed to consider the less money-oriented aspects of the purchasing decisions which fill their coffers.

If it were simply a case of a random company making a short-sighted business decision and alienating a slab of their market, well, so what? It’s happened before, no big deal.

If it were simply a matter of a company skirting the grey areas in Open Source policy and getting criticised for it, again, no big deal. You didn’t hear Mr Lyons squeak when Apple were criticised for only partly open-sourcing their stuff, or for returning Safari-from-Konqueror patches in a large intractible lump.

However, I believe MySQL’s marketing model is an important attempt to build a bridge between the “traditional” software retail model Mr Lyons is implicitly so fond of and the new-but-not-new Open Source development methods. Having that fail because of a short-sighted but essentially unrelated business decision would unravel much of the progress they’ve made towards establishing such a model as viable. That in itself wouldn’t be a complete tragedy, since there are other companies trying out mixed licence models, but MySQL AB is a highly visible pioneer in the field.

The other issue is that I have friends, some inside MySQL, some in jobs dependent upon MySQL, who could be substantially harmed if Mr Lyons succeeds in helping to poisoning this particular waterhole. The ones within MySQL AB do not regard this deal as improper in any way. This is possibly a product of loyalty to MySQL AB, possibly a product of them being snowed by MySQL AB management, and possibly (my favourite option) because there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Now MySQL have plenty of feedback from community and customers alike telling them what the rest of their world thinks. The thing to do is not to publish wild accusations about the Open Source community stinging itself to death, but to wait a week or so and see how MySQL AB react; as I see it, they have three possible choices:

  1. (my favourite) publish the missing information that truly justifies the decision on moral grounds; or
  2. withdraw from the partnership; or
  3. continue on their present course or (apparently) chaining themselves to a dangerous pariah without any but financial justification.
If the outcome is #3, I’ll start porting my customer sites away from MySQL. Some people have already done this, and I believe that their reaction is unduly hasty. If the outcome is either other option, I’ll continue recommending MySQL alongside PostgreSQL and ibFirebird as a viable SQL database with more than enough power and reliability but without the complexity or per-seat financial pain of Oracle or MS SQL Server.


Marten Mickos said...

Thanks for your comments! We are very keen to hear the views of the community on our business and business practices. We cannot disclose the details of our deal with SCO, but we do think it was the right thing to do.

Marten Mickos, MySQL AB

Leon Brooks said...

Hi, Marten! Thanks for the comment. The personal touch is one of the things which helps FOSS to chug along. I have not yet had Steve or Bill (or for that matter Darl) reply to or quote anything I've written.

I understand that you've done the right thing in your own eyes. Arjen, for one, wouldn't associate with you if you were the sort of person who would knowingly do the wrong thing.

What I'm still missing here is the gap between producing OpenServer/UnixWare binaries and/or offering support to OpenServer/UnixWare sites (which I'm perfectly happy with; I do both myself in support of existing SCOX victims^Wcustomers only and migrate them off ASAP) vs an active partnership with a company which:

* has openly attacked and continues to openly attack the principles upon which your business was built; and

* has been and continues to be seriously two-faced; and

* which sues its customers and business partners; and

* is going to go down the financial gurgler Real Soon Now unless Microsoft or some other large entity props them up again.

You state that SCOX is paying MySQL AB; well, far, far better that the money go to you than to lawyers, but is the short-term gain there going to be enough to offset the cost in goodwill?

You state that how SCOX runs their business is their business, but this relationship is portrayed as “partnering”, which makes their business MySQL AB's business, no?

Surely you can fill in the gaps for me (and the Planets that echo me) without employing terms peculiar to the deal?