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.

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