So I guess the argument that Monty is putting forth is that MySQL's future depends on some company exploiting their ownership of the MySQL copyright. As in, he feels that MySQL future will fall apart if there isn't a company that makes its money by dual licensing MySQL under some proprietary license. Amazingly enough Stallman, chief hater of all things proprietary, agrees. Hell seems to have frozen over. I however humbly disagree. The MySQL community has already left the dual licensing model behind. Sun has never shipped the "best" MySQL version, the community has!
Obviously since many of the patches that make the community versions better have not been licensed to Sun, they can't of course apply these patches to their distro without leaving their proprietary customers in the dust. Of course I am sure many MySQL developers will jump ship now, unless they already did when Sun scooped them up. So there will probably not be a big big consulting company behind these community MySQL forks. But who cares really?
So option one Oracle pushes MySQL. This would of course mean a huge push for everyone using MySQL, forked or not .. GPLed or proprietary license. If Oracle doesn't, nothing changes for most of us. Those who are currently paying for that proprietary license will be miffed, but seeing how MySQL was struggling to convert OSS users, there can't be that many. And these people can now choose to use the GPL'ed version or switch to SQLite, Firebird or PostgreSQL. Again so what? Is this going to hurt the OSS community as an example of anything bad? No quite the opposite! Proprietary software has been bought and dumped since the forever. But MySQL would be a showcase how OSS protects you against big corps buying and killing their competition. So all is well.
Why be surprised that RMS agrees? Dual licensing is quite compatible with what he is trying to do, and the letter is strongly supportive of this model where no monopoly exists. People who think Stallman hates "everything proprietary" miss the point.
His letter reminds us that the real problem is the continued existence of ever-powerful anti-competitive monopolies.
What he is trying to do is to make sure that everybody can modify the code for the software they run. This is quite incompatible with the dual licensing model. So yes, I am surprised.
I agree with Monty completely, that Oracle acquiring MySQL is a clear antitrust violation. Even though the products don't compete on the same terms, they do compete for mindshare and the types of problems that used to be solved with Oracle are now being cost-effectively solved with MySQL. In antitrust terms, MySQL is a disruptive competitor.
However, I also agree with you -- if the acquisition succeeds the risk to the MySQL codebase is limited. If Oracle's stewardship is poor, the community will ensure that a successor product will be maintained. Who know what it will look like, but it will exist because the demand is there.
Depending on your perspective, a lot or most or many of the good community patches have been contributed to Sun and InnoDB/Oracle. That includes code from Percona and Google. Eventually it will include code from Facebook (it is much easier for people in a large company to contribute via BSD than the SCA).
From what I have read on mailing lists, Monty Program is contributing bug fixes back to Sun.
Well right now I have lost all faith in the people at the helm of "MySQL" to figure out a roadmap for MySQL that we users actually care for. The fact of the matter is that the founders of MySQL took it on a path that led it to be driven by marketing people. The true disruptive force is to have MySQL be purely a community thing, which is already happening.
As for your comment that "it is much easier for people in a large company to contribute via BSD than the SCA". I do not get quite how things before easier in terms of contributing to a large organization changes anything. If you want to BSD license your patches, feel free, but what does it have to do with the question at hand? I mean Facebook can put out their patches under the BSD if they want, but there is no need for some other organization to exist that is able to dual license their copyrighted code together with whatever BSD patches are floating around. The patches might as well be put together by the community which is not limited in the same way as someone who builds their business model around dual licensing.
a few comments:
"The MySQL community has already left the dual licensing model behind. Sun has never shipped the "best" MySQL version, the community has!"
I know this opinion is shared by a number of people. I feel this point of view does not do justice to the substantial effort and investment put in the mainline. I mean, sure, the "patchers" may end up with a version that is more scalable, has better performance, and whatnot. However, I sincerely doubt whether they would be so succesful if they would also be the developers and maintainers of the server proper. So this is why there is reason for concern, and why everybody that loves the modified community servers should be interested in safeguarding a clear mainline.
Whether Oracle is the best party to do that is a different matter. Personally, I am not pessimistic about it, and I think it would make good business sense for Oracle to maintain and actively develop MySQL.
"Those who are currently paying for that proprietary license will be miffed, but seeing how MySQL was struggling to convert OSS users, there can't be that many."
I understand this point of view, but I think there are substantial minority interests to be considered. I am thinking especially about third parties that use MySQL as a shell for their database solution. Companies like Kickfire, Calpont and Infobright are offering low-cost MySQL compatible analytical database solutions. This is good for customers, more choice, lower prices. If these vendors would not be allowed to distribute MySQL software under a non-GPL license, or if they would be allowed to do so at a substantial higher price than now, these companies might go out of business, and the customers would lose.
Of course these community releases build on top of the work that MySQL/Sun is doing. But if Oracle drops MySQL and if the market cares there will be people picking up these developers. With Monty's company there is already an entity that seems capable to coordinate efforts a bit. So again, I am not worried. Of course it will shake things up a bit in the case where Oracle drops MySQL, but I see this as a chance to actually get things on the right track again. IPO's and big corporations already hurt MySQL as it is and those issues will not be solved by selling MySQL to a bunch of investors, because these will behave just like MySQL before the would be IPO. And lets not forget there is the possibility that Oracle does continue MySQL development.
So either way I see more chances for improvement than for problems if Oracle ends up owning the MySQL copyright. Some investor group owning MySQL will probably just mean we will just have to bare even longer with lots of core developers being told my sales people about what to do as the investor groups will need to figure out how to actually monetize their investment.
Oh and building your business model based on code that requires a proprietary license from a 3rd party is risky, both for the company and its customers. That is why I would recommend people to rather do that kind of stuff on top of PostgreSQL.
"if Oracle drops MySQL and if the market cares there will be people picking up these developers"
That's the thing. If they'd drop it, it would be clear, and the way would be free for some other party to commit and pick it up again. If Oracle'd invest in it, that would be clear too. The problem is, they may let it linger and freeze it, and it might take some time to realize that if that happens. I don't think that would kill MySQL, but it may unnecessarily pause development, and hurt the community and the customers in the mean while. So that's why I think the EU's probe is complettely justified.
As for relying on a 3rd party: it may be risky, but these companies have a good reason to go with MySQL. Their main reason is probably the huge install base, and the ability to offer a MySQL compatible solution to all those familiar with MySQL. You seem to imply that it is a completely normal consequence if these companies would indeed be put out of business. But that's the whole point - the market is not just survival of the fittest and an ey for an eye; at least not in Europe.