In the business IT shop of the near future, open source software will gain equality with proprietary software, but it won't get there on its own power, said Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL AB. It will ride in on the coattails of major systems and software vendors, just as Linux won users after IBM endorsed it.
Open source software will gain entry into the majority of businesses' IT environments in packages, Mickos said. The savvy open source and proprietary vendors are teaming up, and that means that there will be alliances that bother open source purists, but benefit business users. In this thoughtful conversation with this editor, Mickos discusses packaging, partnerships, technology trends -- such as Web-based messaging and the dearth of e-mail innovation -- and MySQL's changing user base.
Has there been a reaction against an open source company, like MySQL AB, partnering with proprietary software companies?
Marten Mickos: From the beginning, we have never been religious about open source. We think it's the most effective way to produce software, but we've always realized that there are vendors that will stay with closed source products. Our users live in the real world where both open source and closed source software have to work together.
Why are more partnerships between open source and proprietary vendors happening right now?
Mickos: Because of the widespread interest in open source products, I don't think that you'll find any ISV [independent software vendor] that doesn't have an open source integration plan or program. SAP has been working with us for three years now, and they're working with the PHP guys (Zend) as well. CA has open sourced various things.
We have been predicting for a long time that all major DBMS vendors will make open source moves. For example, CA made Ingres open source and IBM open sourced Cloudscape. IBM acquired Gluecode and now Oracle has bought InnoDB.
Even Microsoft just announced a partnership with JBoss. There you have a company that used to say fairly nasty things about open source, and now they're partnering with open source companies.
Would you consider this trend a breakthrough for open source software, equal to that of IBM's endorsement of Linux?
Mickos: Consider that MySQL is becoming very strong in the IT ecosystem. It's being resold by Dell, Novell and Hewlett-Packard.
Here is industry-level endorsement of an open source product, MySQL, which you haven't seen before. You've seen the big industry players take on the Linux distributions of Red Hat and SuSE, but now that's happening with open source. It's particularly evident with JBoss, Zend and MySQL.
There are many open source enthusiasts, but the world at large has not gotten the bug yet. Now, they will get it.
Making open source and proprietary products work together has been a challenge, according to IT managers I've talked to. Is it going to get easier?
Mickos: In some ways, when there's a change in the market, concerned voices about 'How will it interoperate?' will always be raised. People asked the same questions about client-server when it arrived.
In the beginning of a market, it's the vendors with the most monolithic and complex offering that will win. In a maturing industry, the winners are the ones who have the most open and modular offering. They win through the ecosystem as much as for their own product. That's why businesses don't have to worry about interoperability as they adopt open source software. It's happening, and it's going to happen.
In order to have a place in the sun in the future, ISVs have to have offerings that are interoperable, interoperable even with their competition's offerings.
How do you respond to business IT leaders' concerns about there being too many open source licenses?
Mickos: The fewer licenses you can have, the better, of course. But let's look at the reality. If you have 10,000 closed source products, you have 10,000 different licenses. Now, there are 100,000 open source products, and just a handful of licenses. There's more fuss around the topic than there should be. The open source community has, from the beginning, streamlined the number of licenses.
There were fairly low requirements placed on vendors before. Licenses were not very proper 10 years ago. There were a lot of infringements and lawsuits. It was a Wild West world.
Now customers realize that they can and that they need to set higher requirements, in terms of licenses. They let themselves be duped by vendors that convinced them that source code should be closed.
We don't mind that the bar is much higher today. No part of the industry has managed intellectual property and licensing as well as the open source community. Open source has a much better record than closed source.
Some closed source vendors don't open source their products because it would be too ugly. It would reveal things that they thought they would never have to reveal.
Why haven't commercial open source product vendors made greater use of the VAR/system integrator channel? That's how IT vendors have usually established themselves in the marketplace.
Mickos: There is a lack of systems integrators who are experts in Linux and open source. However, I see a trend toward businesses and systems integrators hiring Linux and open source experts, mostly straight out of college.
Also, system integrators are not known as the most leading-edge players in the industry. Their competitiveness comes out of serving customers with things that have worked before, not bringing in new, untested things.
There's an unused potential in the local consultant or systems integrators. Building strength in that area is a focus for us.