If Oracle screws up MySQL, the community will fork and the database will live on under another name - leaving Oracle high and dry.
At least that's the open-source theory. And it's a theory Sun Microsystems' executives past and present have recited to placate those concerned by the prospect Oracle, the number-one database vendor, could end up owning the industry's leading open-source database.
Now, those who helped nudge the European Union (EU) to investigate Oracle's $5.6bn purchase have moved to deflate the argument in a campaign to present their case against ownership.
The crux of the argument is that, yes, you can fork a GPL project - such as MySQL - but the fork is not viable. That's because while you can duplicate the code, you cannot easily duplicate the ecosystem around it or the brand itself that have taken years to build.
"A fork vendor would not get the value from the brand," Florian Mueller said during an all-too-short gathering of press and investors in San Francisco, California on Monday. Muller is a former adviser to MySQL who wrote a positioning paper that helped convince the EU to investigate Oracle's planned deal
"The value of the brand is huge - that's why the valuation is so great. MariaDB [the MySQL fork created by founder Monty Widenius] - it would take a long while to get there."
Mueller claimed the fork would struggle because it couldn't attract the same level of interest from partners as the main MySQL product and the revenue wouldn't flow as a result.
Referring to the EU-probe of Oracle's potential ownership of MySQL, Mueller said: "Regulators care about effective competition."
Also, Mueller claimed, Oracle will control MySQL's intellectual property rights. That's a problem, because Oracle would be able to decide where and how to develop MySQL - and Oracle has a conflict of interest.
Many were puzzled by the EU's decision to investigate the deal, given Oracle's known in the RDBMS world and MySQL made its name as an embedded and web database.
According to Mueller, however, MySQL has been on a trajectory from the low end of computing to the enterprise with the addition of features - particularly with version 5.1 that added procedures, triggers views - and that has taken it into direct competition with Oracle. He claimed unnamed Oracle customers have dumped their existing database for MySQL.
At Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco this month, Sun chairman Scott McNealy said he didn't understand the EU investigation because MySQL didn't compete.
Mueller was unable say how many Oracle customers had switched to MySQL. But to prove his point, Muller cited an internal Sun project called Peter to get Oracle database customers to switch to MySQL. You can see Sun's Project Peter presentation here.
With this in mind, MySQL's future could not be guaranteed, as Oracle could - again - decide to develop the database in ways to protect the core Oracle database business.
"This could not continue under Oracle," he said of MySQL's growth from the low- to high-end database. "Nobody cannibalizes himself... you need different businesses," Muller said. "MySQL stared at the low end with people belittling its functionality - as something not real men would use in programming.
"MySQL is not nearly where it could be," he said of the database today. "The question is what will Oracle do - MySQL competes across the broad."
He also told press and analysis that MySQL independent of Oracle creates price competition and lowers the cost of switching databases.
"From a regulators point of view, it's worth sustaining a price maverick - someone who behaves much more aggressively than another. And that's important in the database market because of the high switching cost," Muller said. ®