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Ex-Sun boss gives Ellison open source wedgie

'You're a great capitalist, Larry'

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Pg West 2010 Former Sun Microsystems chief and co-founder Scott McNealy has re-appeared to champion open source and rough up billionaire Larry Ellison, the man who bought his baby.

Speaking at PostgreSQL West 2010, McNealy urged devs to drive adoption of their database against Oracle's proprietary products and MySQL by working with other open-source projects, uniting with business folks, and making their software simpler for ordinary - less-technical - users.

McNealy reckons there's plenty of opportunity for open sourcers to help customers escape the data lock-in of Oracle as well as IBM and Microsoft – what he called a "roach motel" for data.

But McNealy respects Ellison's efforts to make money from open-source and Java, despite the upset it's causing the various communities.

This week, Oracle doubled support costs for MySQL, and in the background, it's prosecuting Java licensee Google over claimed violations of Java patents in Android that Oracle bought with Sun.

"Do I have a problem with Larry Ellison buying Sun? No," McNealy asserted. "That's part of capitalism. As soon as we go public we are for sale. Do I have a problem with him exercising legal IP rights? No. Would it be how I run and operate? No. But I was a good capitalist, he's a great capitalist."

McNealy cautioned open sourcers against expecting Oracle will suddenly participate on the terms they want in open-source projects formerly run largely by Sun largely, including OpenSolaris and OpenOffice. "I just know he's not a huge fan of sharing," McNealy grinned.

"I wouldn't count on more release to the community of more Oracle paid-for engineering. Some code might escape Oracle's labs, if Larry doesn't know about it, but I'm only guessing."

Historically, McNealy has a, shall we say, “spirited” relationship with Ellison. But he appeared to keep an open-mind over Ellison's Google prosecution, suggesting this could actually help fund Java's development in the long term.

"Larry might spend more on R&D on Java if he gets a big bag of money from Google for using it, than we [Sun] did from the open-source community - it depends on how well he executes on the money he generates," McNealy said.

McNealy channeled this free-market thinking into open-source. He believes that the strength of open-source is the availability of the code. This openness will lead to forks in the major projects Ellison's company is busy killing: MySQL, OpenOffice, OpenSolaris.

Speaking like a true believer in open source at the EnterprseDB-sponsored event, McNealy said open-source meant easier switching with lower prices for customers locked into Oracle databases and competing databases.

"I think SQL is here to stay and you are contributing to a very important part of the digital economy, but many people are still suck in a database world of the proprietary vendor - another roach motel of data," McNealy said.

But, he warned. "there are challenges and other pieces of the business strategy around open source that need to be understood and supported by the community to make you successful."

McNealy lobbed a few barbs at Ellison for his company's nose-bleed-inducing licensing and support costs, prices that - ultimately - help fund Ellison's passion for yacht racing and trouncing the Europeans in the Americas' Cup with his team BMW-Oracle boat.

"Once you start talking in the language of [IBM's] DB2... then you start locking up your data in a proprietary language that only IBM has the keys to - you are done," he said.

"What do they do in the upgrade to the next version? The price of the next version is set at $5 below the barrier to exit, and [Oracle president and chief financial officer] Safra Catz at Oracle has calculated that for every one of her customers."

McNealy, who reprised his famous top-10-ten list for conference attendees, joked that you know your database vendor has you by the balls when your end-user license agreement has been re-named the software license agreement vendor explanation - i.e. SLAVE. Another sign: when you're surprised to see your database vendor's name on the side of the America's Cup boat.

Shifting attention from Oracle's proprietary business to MySQL, McNealy told the PostgreSQL crowd: "There is not going to be one open source database - there will be multiple. There's the NoSQL world, there's enterprise databases... there's unique databases."

EnterpriseDB chief executive Ed Boyajian speaking before McNealy said Oracle's acquisition of Sun and MySQL is causing an upsurge in interest in PostgreSQL. EnterpriseDB plans more PostgreSQL events to evangelize the database, he said.

Like others, EnterpriseDB's gunning for a piece of MySQL's business as Oracle squeezes customers on price and while uncertainty remains over MySQL's future under Oracle.

The company in April named Karen Tegan Padir as vice president of products and marketing. She was a Sun veteran with 15 years' experience who briefly headed up the MySQL business after former MySQL chief executive Marten Mickos left Sun. She served as vice president of Sun's MySQL and software infrastructure group. McNealy currently advises EnterprsieDB for free, along with other companies. ®

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