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Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL AB

Marten MickosMySQL AB is a company on the way up. It leads the open source database world and continues to extend its reach further and further into the enterprise.

The company recently unveiled a new Network subscription model already supported by a long list of major industry players. Leading MySQL as it enters the next stage of its evolution is CEO Martin Mickos, an unabashed open source advocate and nosoftwarepatents.com supporter.

In an interview with internetnews.com, conducted before LinuxWorld, Mickos talked about the open and closed source competition, his thoughts on Larry Ellison and what's wrong with patents.

Q: There have been a number of recent surveys that show MySQL to be the most popular open source database server. Part of that popularity is based on the fact that it runs on Windows. Do you see Microsoft SQL Server as a competitor?

Sure, to some degree we do. We see Microsoft on one hand as a platform company. On the one hand they have this wonderful operating system called Windows. They have a fantastic development environment called Visual Studio and the .NET structure in total. We believe that we are adding value to Microsoft by extending those platforms to open source developers who otherwise may not have considered them.

Microsoft also has a database product, and maybe they see us as a competitor. I'd guess that they do, but from our standpoint, Microsoft is first and foremost a platform company.

Q: How critical is the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) stack to MySQL?

In open source traditionally, the software has been integrated without any formal agreements. The LAMP stack emerged without any fanfare or announcement from LinuxWorld, it just happened.

Our view on software stacks is that the industry has now matured to the point where you can have horizontal players who play more than one stack. We see three main stacks where we operate: .NET, Java and LAMP. Sure LAMP is by far the most popular and where we have the most traction, but .NET is a good second and Java is certainly not small.

Q: There are, of course, other open source databases out there. In particular PostgreSQL and Ingres have made some noise in the marketplace recently. Are you concerned about them taking market share from you?

I think it's good that there is more than one open source database, because otherwise we couldn't be a market. If you look at PostgreSQL and Ingres, they are the type that try to displace Oracle. They try to mimic their features and do exactly the same thing.

So from our standpoint we welcome them and say "great, you guys can go and take up the battle with Oracle and we will focus on the stuff where we are strong."

Q: What's your opinion of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison? Is he the type of CEO that you'd like to be?

I've never met him so I don't know. But I think to get there, to the position that he is, he must be truly intelligent, smart, business savvy and all of that, and those are things that I definitely admire. I'm not sure that his style of dealing with employees, customers, partners is the style that I represent.

Q: MySQL is a supporter of the nosoftwarepatents.com movement in the EU. In the United States, patents are a fact of life. What's your opinion of software patents in the United States?

We already have patents. So on the one hand, in our mind we believe that software patents are detrimental to the software industry, and we think they should be abolished altogether. But of course we need to live and survive under the current legislation, and today software patents are a reality in the U.S. So politically we think they should be abolished, but until that happens we will apply for patents; we will use patents; we will defend ourselves with patents as much as anybody else.

Q: What's the real problem with software patents?

I can tell you what the real problem is with software patents and it will hit the large companies before it hits the small ones. Some people call them patent pirates, or patent trolls or patent profiteers -- companies that have no other business but the business of owning software patents and extracting patent royalties from companies.

If challenged by such a company, and if they would win, it doesn't help to have a stockpile of your own. There is no way you can retaliate or barter or negotiate, because those companies have no product of their own -- they don't sell any products.

This is why this will hit the whole software industry -- not the small companies but the big ones. The only good news with the patent profiteers is that their actions will demonstrate to everyone how detrimental software patents can actually be.

Q: Is it just a matter of time until people recognize what's wrong with patents?

It's a matter of time, but unfortunately it's going to be a long time. It's difficult for people to see the distinction between hardware patents and software patents. Patents on mechanical things are perfectly logical and viable and make sense. Software patents don't, and it's difficult to see the distinction.

You just have to think about journalism or art or literature or music and you realize that there are many industries where patents are not allowed. And you realize that maybe you need to categorize software as similar to mathematics or journalism or literature and then it makes sense.

Q: What do you think will be the end result of the current actions in the EU around patents? Do you think they'll end up not allowing software patents at all?

I'm very optimistic that the EU will pass legislation which makes sense and which limits software patents. I believe there has been a good understanding of software patents by politicians from Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and many other countries. So that has been a positive surprise to us -- that the understanding of such a complicated issue is so high.