Who Should Oracle Sell MySQL To?

There is no shortage of people calling for Oracle to sell MySQL. I keep reading that Oracle should sell MySQL to "a suitable third-party" or to a "neutral third party." I understand why these people feel passionate about this, but "loose" terminology like this is always dangerous. It implies that this is an easy thing to do and that there is a line of suitors out there waiting to snap up MySQL for a fair market price.

I wonder if there is a line of potential MySQL purchasers out there just waiting for an opportunity to bid on MySQL. Should Oracle have to shed MySQL even for a low-ball price in the name of market competitiveness? Can a company make significant money off of MySQL? Did Sun make money off of MySQL? Should Oracle or Sun take a loss on MySQL in the name of community betterment? Should another company purchase MySQL even if they don't believe they can ever earn back their investment (without even considering a desired profit margin) in the name of community betterment? Is eminent domain a consideration here?

Some companies make money related to shepherding open source projects; many do not. Ironically, at the time it seemed that Sun's purchase of MySQL overshadowed Oracle's purchase of BEA. Sun purchased MySQL for roughly one billion U.S. dollars ($800 million cash plus $200 million debt assumption). Can Oracle expect to get at least that for MySQL? Or, is MySQL worth more or less than that now? One could argue its only worth what someone else will pay for it. Is someone willing to pay more than $1 billion for MySQL? Should Oracle be forced to sell MySQL to the highest bidder regardless of the amount bid?

I have no idea what the fate of MySQL would be under Oracle, but I am almost as curious and uncertain about what price Oracle could get for MySQL. It is probably much like my most trusted old cars have been: they have been worth quite a bit more to me because they are cheap to own and operate and I know they are in good condition. However, they are not worth nearly as much to anyone else. I wonder if this is a similar case: is MySQL worth much more to Oracle than it is to anyone else? One could make an argument that "the community" values MySQL more, but it is nearly impossible for "the community" to purchase something like this for any reasonable price. What would be required in that case is either Oracle donating MySQL or selling it at significant discount or a "representative" of the community stepping forward to purchase it. Is there any organization out there ready to step up and be that representative? Does any organization have sufficient selfish motivation to do this?

It's easy to suggest that Oracle should sell to a "suitable third party?" That's just talk. The potentially significantly more difficult thing might be to actually find a buyer that meets the definition of "suitable" to all involved. I would love to hear those who state that Oracle should sell MySQL do more than state things as though if are as easily implemented as they are stated. I'd like to see who is willing to bid for MySQL and how much they're willing to bid. Of course, even those organizations interested in bidding on MySQL are not likely going to share their offers publicly. So, we're left wondering if there are any buyers out there willing to pay anything close to what Oracle feels the value of MySQL is.

MySQL may be one of the best examples one can think of where its value to the overall community is tremendous (perhaps many times more than $1 billion in this case), but it is much more difficult for any single organization to see enough individual value to justify purchasing it (in this case for anywhere close to $1 billion). There is no question that MySQL brings significant value to its users, but does it carry enough value to whoever owns it to justify its purchase? Or, is this another example of the problems of the commons? For my part, I can see how MySQL might be of more value to Oracle than it is to any other single party. This makes a sale difficult because Oracle wants more than any individual organization is willing to pay. MySQL is almost certainly more valuable to the collective community, but the collective community is not structured to make the purchase.

If someone is to purchase MySQL without a deep discount from what Oracle likely thinks it is worth, that "someone" will need to have a plan how they will make money from their ownership of MySQL. The more they pay for MySQL, the more revenue they need to be able to directly trace back to ownership of MySQL. Which organizations are in a position to profit from owning MySQL? How can these organizations most readily make money off ownership of MySQL? I don't know the answers to all of these questions, but I'd love to hear others' ideas.

This story, "Who Should Oracle Sell MySQL To?" was originally published by JavaWorld.


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