Oracle, European Commission spar over Sun merger

The fate of the Solaris operating system and Java programming language may be in the hands of an unelected European political body.


Earlier this week, the European Commission sent a statement of objections to Oracle Corp.’s agreement to acquire Sun Microsystems Inc. over concerns Oracle would own Sun’s MySQL open source database, in addition to Oracle’s own high-end database.


“Despite MySQL being open source, Oracle would be the exclusive holder of copyright on the MySQL code, making it hard for competitors to do what they want with it,” said Jonathan Todd, European Commission’s spokesman on competition matters.


While Oracle is the leading proprietary database vendor, MySQL is the leading open source vendor “and a particularly important force in the market now,” he added.


Though members of the European Parliament are elected by voters in the 27 countries in the European Union, the members of the European Commission are not directly elected.


Reacting to the statement of objections it received late Monday, Oracle had insisted the deal “doesn’t threaten to reduce competition in the slightest, including in the database market.”


“It is well understood by those knowledgeable about open source software that because MySQL is open source, it cannot be controlled by anyone. That is the whole point of open source,” Oracle said.


Last April, Oracle agreed to acquire Sun for US$7.4 billion in cash. In addition to servers, network attached storage and developer tools, Sun also makes the Solaris Unix operating system.


But the European Commission’s major objection stems from Sun MySQL, touted as a low-cost alternative to Oracle, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server.


Oracle claims MySQL doesn’t compete in the high-end server market made up of banks and similar organizations requiring superfast and secure database access, and instead it is used by websites and other less critical clients.


“Given the lack of any credible theory or evidence of competitive harm, we are confident we will ultimately obtain unconditional clearance of the transaction,” Oracle said.


Those comments provoked Todd’s outburst. Normally the Commission doesn’t make any comment at all when it issues a statement of objections in a merger review.


Earlier this month, a source close to Oracle warned that if a statement of objections was issued it would be “gloves off time”.


“Looks like we are in for a bare-knuckle fight over the inclusion of MySQL in the deal,” said one person close to the Commission who is following the merger review closely.


With files from Greg Meckbach


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