Let's take a look at Oracle's love and hate relationship with open source software

All businesses use FOSS now, but Big Red never been entirely comfortable with it

Opinion All companies use open source now, but some, such as Oracle, have never been completely comfortable with it.

Back in 2009, I followed Oracle's acquisition of Sun as closely as a tick on a dog's neck. I doubted very much that it would work out well. I thought Sun would have been better off with IBM. In the end, it was a mixed bag.


Early MySQL engineer questions whether Oracle is unintentionally killing off the open source database


Sun's hardware portfolio is no longer available, but Java continues to contribute significantly to Oracle's bottom line. However, the rest of Sun's open source portfolio has slowly declined under Oracle's leadership, and now, its most important program, MySQL, appears to be on its way down and out.

Peter Zaitsev, a former MySQL performance engineer, co-author of the book on getting the most from MySQL, High Performance MySQL, and co-founder of Percona, an open source database enterprise-class support company, recently wondered "Is Oracle finally killing MySQL?" His answer? Yes.

From where Zaitsev stands, it all started with introducing "MySQL Heatwave" — Oracle's MySQL Cloud Database. That's because it came with features that were not available in MySQL Community or MySQL Enterprise.

Missing features include Vector Search, analytical queries acceleration, Machine Learning (ML) functionality, and Javascript support. Yes, that's right, JavaScript – the most popular high-level language – isn't supported in MySQL Community. It's only available as a MySQL Enterprise-only feature.

Oh, and performance, at the end of the day, the be-all and end-all of all database management systems (DBMS)? It's falling behind not only MySQL's rivals, such as PostgreSQL and the MySQL open source fork MariaDB, but when it comes to the bread and butter of simple single-thread workloads, it's not performing as well as 2021's MySQL 5.6.

What is going on here!? It's not like Zaitsev is an Oracle hater. He's not. While people like me were sure Oracle would kill off MySQL to eliminate competition for its in-house Oracle DBMS, for many years, he has said he thought Oracle [was] "quite a good steward of MySQL."

Things have changed. Now, Zaitsev believes that "unless Oracle turns its attention to the needs modern developers have from a relational database, it will be killing it, if not through action, then through inaction!"

He's not wrong. Besides MariaDB picking up MySQL customers, PostgreSQL has closed the adoption gap with MySQL, according to DB-Engines. Indeed, by the StackOverflow Developer Survey count, PostgreSQL is already the most popular open source relational database.

Does Oracle care? It seems not.

Let's face it. Back in the day, MySQL was a way for Oracle to engage with small-medium businesses (SMBs). These days, many companies want their DBMSs on the cloud, and that's where Heatwave comes in. MySQL? Not so much. There's little direct profit to be found there, and Oracle has always been driven by the bottom line.

This is not new. Oracle has a long history of not caring about its open source projects. As we used to say, "Let's look at the tape."

Let's start with OpenSolaris, which tried to compete with Linux. I could go on and on about it, but to cut to the chase, it was never a serious Linux rival. Oracle discontinued public updates to its codebase in August 2010, effectively ending the OpenSolaris project as an open source project. It still lives on as Illumos and OpenIndiana, the Illumos desktop.

That said, Oracle still supports Linux. Indeed, Oracle has joined forces with CIQ and SUSE to create OpenELA, an open source Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) fork. Oracle has a long, long history of competing with RHEL. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Most Sun open source projects haven't fared so well. For example, OpenOffice, once the leading open source office suite, was dumped on the Apache Foundation, where it gradually collapsed. Fortunately, for those of us who haven't fallen to Microsoft Office's siren song, LibreOffice came along to turn it into a healthy, successful project.

Still other programs, such as the PC-based virtualization program, VirtualBox, live on, but the latter is no longer completely open source. The main program is still licensed under the GPL v3. The very useful VirtualBox Extension Pack, which includes USB device support, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) support, and disk image encryption is no longer open.

What does all this mean for MySQL? Personally, I'm not optimistic.

In a LinkedIn comment, Zaitsev shares that "if Oracle thinks maintaining MySQL should become shared responsibility because they no more get the value from carrying most of the burden maintaining the project they can transfer it to Linux Foundation (or other independent non-profit entity) and focus on maintaining their internal version (similar to AWS Aurora) - in this case, it would be fair to expect AWS/GCP etc to share the burden of moving Open Source project forward... and I'm sure they would."

I think that would be MySQL's best path forward. If Oracle continues the way it has been, well, like many other people, I'm liking what I see of PostgreSQL more and more. ®

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